Criminal case from Jersey City activist’s infamous arrest ends, but lawsuits loom

Except for a refusal to submit breath samples for DWI testing, all charges related to the May 2019 arrest of Jersey City activist Pamela Johnson by JCPD Sgt. Matthew Kilroy were dismissed.

Dorian Belfiore - Sgt. Matthew Kilroy - Pamela Johnson - Paul Scalia - Jersey City

Left-to-right: Special Deputy Attorney General Dorian Belfiore, JCPD Sgt. Matthew Kilroy, political activist Pamela Johnson, and Jersey City Municipal Court Judge Paul Scalia.

After more than two years, criminal & motor vehicle charges stemming from the infamous arrest of a black female activist by a white Jersey City Police Department (JCPD) sergeant have been resolved; however, the threat of civil litigation indicates that drama surrounding the controversial encounter is far from over.

On May 7, 2019, Pamela Johnson was arrested by Sgt. Matthew Kilroy for suspicion of Driving While Intoxicated (DWI). The encounter occurred at approximately 9:46 PM, in the vicinity of Arlington Ave. and Union St., after Johnson was stopped by Kilroy while operating her daughter’s vehicle near the scene of an incident that required a response by the JCPD’s Emergency Services Unit (ESU).

Video footage recorded by JCPD P.O. Eric Cirino’s bodycam reveals the immediate aftermath of the arrest and DWI processing. While the camera captured some initial hostility, cooler heads prevailed by the time of formal questioning and informal conversation between Kilroy & Johnson regarding what had transpired.

Johnson was ultimately charged with DWI, Refusal to Submit to Chemical Test, Resisting Arrest, and Making Threats or Other Improper Influence. Due to the criminal charges (resisting/making threats), the case was immediately transferred out-of-county because Johnson’s close relationship with Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez created a conflict of interest.

By July 16, 2021, all of the criminal charges against Johnson were dismissed. Additionally, all motor vehicle charges were dismissed in exchange for the activist pleading guilty to the charge of refusing to provide breath samples for DWI testing. For refusing to consent, Johnson was fined $433, but the mandatory license suspension was waived by Municipal Court Judge Paul Scalia. Watch key bodycam footage of Pamela Johnson arrest and plea deal/sentencing hearing below:


Breakdown of bodycam footage

Video from the aftermath of Pamela Johnson’s arrest was obtained by Real Garden State after an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request was filed with the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office (HCPO) for bodycam footage from the incident.

The footage begins approximately 12 minutes after Kilroy arrests Johnson and is captured on the bodycam of  P.O. Cirino – one of the JCPD officers responsible for transporting Johnson while she was in custody. Key details from the bodycam video include:

  • Kilroy was talking on his cell phone when Cirino arrived to the scene, but the officer’s microphone had not been activated yet.
  • While being escorted to the back of a JCPD vehicle, Johnson tells Kilroy “you full of shit, bro” and “you a slack ass cop.”
  • While seated in the vehicle, but refusing to put her feet in the vehicle, Johnson asks Cirino why she’s being arrested multiple times. Kilroy approaches the vehicle, Johnson says “fuck you” to him and he responds “you’re being arrested for DWI” while pointing his index finger at her. Cirino helps place Johnson’s feet in the car afterward.
  • After being transported to JCPD B.C.I., located in the Jersey City Municipal Court, Johnson is transported to a Hudson County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) facility for DWI testing.
  • Upon arrival at the HCSO facility, Johnson & Kilroy encounter each other once again. Johnson calls Kilroy “the punk ass officer” and “jackass” before stating “just don’t Sandra Bland me” (Kilroy claimed to be unaware of the case Johnson was referencing).
  • Johnson refuses to provide a breath sample to a JCPD officer during DWI processing. Minutes later, Johnson tells Kilroy “you are a real dick ass, asshole… but I’m coming for you, though, baby. Don’t worry about it. See this eye right here? What you did to me? I’m coming, you gonna regret it.”
  • Approximately thirty minutes later, after hostilities had subsided, Johnson admits to consuming two alcoholic drinks (white wine) earlier in the night at the Light Rail Cafe when formally questioned by Kilroy. The bar, which is owned by Ward F Councilman Jermaine Robinson, is one block from where Johnson was arrested. The first drink was at approximately 7 PM, the second was at approximately 8:30 PM, and she also ate a meal with the drinks, according to Johnson.
  • After formal questioning was over, Kilroy and Johnson began a peaceful dialogue about what had transpired.
  • According to Kilroy, Johnson nearly struck him with the vehicle she was operating while disregarding police efforts to divert traffic away from a dangerous situation. 
  • Kilroy apparently admits to slamming Johnson to the ground, which likely caused the abrasion on the activist’s face, but says he was in the right because she was resisting arrest. Johnson admits she was resisting arrest, but claims she was in the right because black people “can’t have a fair advantage of anything.”

Sentencing hearing in Judge Paul Scalia’s courtroom

As previously stated, by July 16, 2021, all of the criminal charges against Johnson were dismissed by the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office (ECPO). The motor vehicle violations were transferred back to Jersey City Municipal Court on March 18, 2021, according to court records.

The prosecutor handling the case, ECPO A.P. Dorian Belfiore, was technically representing the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General (NJOAG) as a special deputy attorney general at the sentencing hearing for Johnson.

Belfiore and Johnson’s pro bono attorney, Amy Albert, reached a plea deal that dismissed the remaining charges – including DWI – in exchange for Johnson pleading guilty to refusing to provide breath samples for DWI testing. Johnson also agreed to a stipulation that there was probable cause for her arrest.

Belfiore told Judge Scalia that the deal was appropriate because there was no field sobriety test or warrant executed to draw bodily fluids. Additionally, with no opposition from Belfiore, Albert requested that Scalia waive the license suspension for Johnson because she’s been without a license for years – which created a hardship for the activist and community.

Johnson was driving with a suspended license at the time of the incident due to unpaid tickets. After paying the tickets, Johnson decided not to restore her license as she waited for this case to be resolved, according to Albert.

Scalia obliged, citing the COVID-19 pandemic and the length the case took to be resolved as essentially time served. Nevertheless, it was not immediately clear whether the state motor vehicle system would accept or reject the judge’s decision.

Kilroy was present for the sentencing hearing with a lawyer, because he claims to be a victim in the case, but was never asked to be heard by Scalia. Albert objected to Kilroy’s professed victimhood, which Scalia did not offer an opinion on, but the sergeant was apparently paid overtime for attending.

In a statement provided to Real Garden State, Albert said:

Pamela Johnson took responsibility for refusing to take a breathalyzer test following a traffic stop conducted by JCPD Sergeant Matthew Kilroy. However, the Prosecution dismissed all other charges including those relating to the allegations that Ms. Johnson was recklessly driving, engaged in terroristic threats against Sgt Kilroy and engaged in eluding. Further, during the plea colloquy the Prosecution admitted that it could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Ms. Johnson was driving while intoxicated…

…Video evidence from Ms. Johnson’s arrest clearly demonstrates that she suffered injuries and there was clear bruising to her face. Ms. Johnson was hospitalized following the arrest to treat the injuries she sustained. She still intends to pursue allegations of excessive force. Sgt Kilroy’s appearance was a blatant attempt to recast the incident and guard against future lawsuits and disciplinary actions.

Both Kilroy and his attorney, Thomas Rogers, declined to speak about the case when asked to comment outside the courthouse following the hearing.

Pamela Johnson’s internal affairs complaint against Sgt. Matthew Kilroy

As previously reported by Real Garden State, Johnson’s excessive force complaint against Kilroy was unsustained by the JCPD Internal Affairs Unit (IAU).

According to various sources, on or around September 14, 2020, shortly after a retired deputy chief filed a lawsuit against the city related to anti-LGBT tweets (some of which were directed at Kilroy), JCPD IAU notified Johnson and Kilroy that the activist’s excessive force complaint was not sustained.

It’s believed that decision was made so Kilroy wouldn’t file his own lawsuit against the JCPD, but given Johnson’s plan to sue it’s unclear what will happen moving forward as the infamous encounter is now headed for civil litigation.

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