Ex-Paterson cop to surrender in second alleged assault case, attorney says

Former Paterson Police Officer Spencer Finch has been indicted on criminal charges for allegedly assaulting a man outside a deli in December 2018, according to his lawyer, Eric Kleiner.

Finch was fired from the Paterson police force in 2021 after he was indicted in a separate case in which another officer’s body camera recorded him repeatedly striking a man involved in a domestic argument.

Kleiner said he received a warrant Tuesday for Finch’s arrest based on an indictment accusing his client of official misconduct, assault and filing a false police report in the 2018 incident. Finch planned to surrender to authorities on Wednesday, Kleiner said.

“My client will be acquitted by a jury when this goes to trial,” Kleiner said Tuesday night, explaining that he was referring to both cases. “There’s no excuse for the way my client has been treated. He was a decorated officer.”

Finch already was the target of a federal lawsuit stemming from the 2018 incident, which happened on Crooks Avenue. Court records from that case said the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office would be convening a grand jury as a result of its investigation.

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In the lawsuit, Paterson resident Justin Montgomery said he and some friends were at Quicks Deli in South Paterson on Dec. 22, 2018, when the store’s manager accused one of them of stealing ice cream. The manager then allowed Montgomery and the others to go to their van to get a receipt proving they had bought the ice cream, the lawsuit said.

While Montgomery and the others were inside the van, they suddenly were surrounded by police vehicles and confronted by officers with their guns drawn, the lawsuit said.

Finch allegedly grabbed Montgomery by a chain around his neck, yanked him out of the van and pushed him against a wall, the lawsuit said. Finch and other cops allegedly then struck Montgomery with hard objects, according to the lawsuit, possibly flashlights or nightsticks.

Paterson police officer Spencer Finch shown on body camera video from a 2021 incident that led to his arrest.

Paterson police officer Spencer Finch shown on body camera video from a 2021 incident that led to his arrest.

The lawsuit said the officers yelled, “Where are the drugs and guns?”

The lawsuit names a second officer, Kyle Wanamaker, saying he allegedly filed a police report against Montgomery “containing allegations that were knowingly false in order to obfuscate” Finch’s alleged wrongdoing.

The court records contain no indication that Wanamaker was also the target of the criminal probe. Sources familiar with the case said Wanamaker was among the Paterson police officers called to testify before the Finch grand jury this month.

Paterson police charged Montgomery with robbery, resisting arrest and assault on a police officer, the lawsuit said. Frank Arleo, Montgomery’s lawyer, said his client resolved the criminal cases by entering pretrial intervention, a measure that often results in the dismissal of the charges.

The first criminal case against Finch has been precedent-setting on multiple levels. It represented the first time a police body camera video was used as evidence against a Paterson officer. It also marked the first time in decades that Paterson fired a cop facing criminal charges before the case was resolved.

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Finch is appealing the disciplinary charges that led to his termination, said his lawyer in the matter, Anthony Iacullo.

In the May 26, 2021, case, Finch and another officer responded to a man involved in a loud domestic dispute in the hallway of an apartment building. After almost two minutes of talking, the video showed Finch walk past the other cop and hit the man in the face multiple times with a flashlight.

Near the end of the video, the man was handcuffed and sitting on the hallway floor when Finch lifted his knee and struck the man in the face again. Finch also was indicted on charges he filed a false police report about that incident.

Court records filed last year in the lawsuit said prosecutors had offered Finch a plea bargain that would have covered both cases, but that he rejected the proposal. Details of that plea offer were not made public.

Kleiner said Finch is scheduled to go to trial next month on charges from the 2021 incident.

Joe Malinconico is editor of Paterson Press.

Email: editor@patersonpress.com

This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Ex-Paterson NJ police officer to surrender in assault case

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