It was Monday, August 15, 2011, just a few minutes after 4:00 pm, and I was in Wood-Ridge, New Jersey, walking down Highland Ave, trying to clear my head. I found myself heading down the same path that I had discovered while wandering some months earlier, also trying to clear my head. As I crossed 7th Ave, heading towards Valley Blvd, suddenly, the sky started pouring rain, and water started to quickly pool on the sidewalks. I had no umbrella – only a jacket and a baseball cap to protect me – so, I started to get uncomfortably and soaking wet, especially my boots.
As I continued to walk, I noticed that the rain wasn’t nearly as heavy under the canopy of each tree I passed. So, when I got to the next tree, stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, and waited underneath it. Being mostly safe from the rain at that point, I retrieved my phone from my pocket, and began to write a status update for Facebook about being caught in the rain. However, I experienced much difficulty, as the water from the rain drops seemed to render my touchscreen useless.
As I struggled to type into my phone while continuously wiping off the screen, I notice a police cruiser slowly parking itself in front of me, on the opposite side of the street, just a few car lengths away from where I was standing. Certain that I was being watched, I began to feel uncomfortably anxious. Taking a deep breath to calm myself, I turned my body about 90 degrees to the left, to face the sidewalk across from me. Then, I looked back down at my phone, and nervously finished typing my sentence, succesfully posting it to my Facebook wall at 4:07 pm.
With hope, I turned my head and looked over, yet the cruiser was still there, with windshield wipers on full power. With this, I began to feel panic, as I was now certain that I would be approached and questioned by the operator of the vehicle. I did my best to quickly text my husband, telling him that I was almost to Hackensack. By the time I sent the message, it was 4:10 pm. Immediately afterwards, at 4:11 pm, I texted him again to tell him that I was waiting out the rain under a tree. At 4:12 pm, I texted him one last time, to let him know that I was a little lost. Upon completing my texts, I put my phone into my pocket, looked up, and saw that the police cruiser was still present. I also saw that the rain had let up a bit. Eager to continue on to my destination, and away from police scrutiny, I was desperate start walking again. However, I could not, because I felt stuck. Knowing that I was being watched, I determined that the solution would be to base my actions on how those watching me would see it, NOT on what I wanted to do. Annoyed, but unable to see any alternative, I nervously stepped out into the street, from under the canopy of the tree, with my arm outstreched and my hand out, palm up, in an effort to convey the idea that I was testing the rainfall’s intensity. Satisfied with my efforts, I quickly began to continue down Highland Street, in the direction of Valley Blvd, hoping that I would be left alone.
As soon as I resumed walking, the police cruiser who was watching me pulled out it’s parking spot. After it slowly passed me, the vehicle immediately turned around and pulled up next to me. A single officer named Mueller rolled down his passenger window and beckoned me over to it. Knowing that I would be required to speak, pure panic set in. When I leaned down, he asked me where I was going. “To the 7-11,” I squeezed out of a tightening throat, barely able to hear my own voice. “Where do you live?,” he questioned. “Rutherford,” I forced out, still having trouble hearing myself. “When’s the last time you took a shower?,” officer Mueller inquired. “Yesterday,” I replied, quietly, confused by his question. “You smell,” he stated, sternly. Somewhat shocked and offended, I began to sniff myself, unable to detect any sort of odor. “Do you have ID?,” he asked. “Yes,” I replied, anxiously reaching into my jacket for my wallet. I removed my identification and handed it to him, still thinking about his question.
Officer Mueller took my ID, and began to inspect it. As he did, I began to laugh a little. “What’s so funny?,” the he asked. “What do you mean by ‘smell’? Like, a musty smell, or a ‘no deodorant’ type of smell?,” I asked, somewhat defensively. “No. Garbage. You smell like garbage,” he replied, in all seriousness. “Wha-? Really?” I asked, surprised that the officer was maintaining such a position. “Yes. You stink,” he replied, annoyed. Shocked, I wondered to myself what motive he would carry to lie about such a specific detail… And, while I was unable to discern the reason at the time, I knew, instinctively, that he could not be trusted, whatsoever, because he failed the test of truth.
Officer Mueller read the address sticker from the back of my ID aloud, and asked me if I lived there. “Yes,” I replied. “Why are you all the way out here, in Wood-Ridge?” “I’m going to the 7-11 in Hackensack,” I replied. “Do you drive?,” he asked. “Yes,” I responded. “Do you have a car?,” he asked. “Well, my husband and I have one,” I replied. “Why didn’t you drive your car?,” he snapped back. “Because I didn’t want to drive. I want to walk,” I replied.
“Out here in the rain? All the way to Woodridge?” officer Mueller inquired, with suspicion. “Well, I was just trying to -,” I began to state. “There’s been some burglaries in the area, here, so it just doesn’t make much sense me that you’re out here in the pouring rain, just standing there on the sidewalk, playing with your phone,” he began to list. “I was under the tree to block the rain,” I interrupted, in explanation. “You could be the look-out, for all I know,” he interrupted. “You claim you’re heading to the 7-11, yet you’re walking in the wrong direction,” he continued. “I’m going to the one on in Hackensack – on Summit Ave,” I interjected. “You have a car, yet you aren’t driving it,” he continued, unmoved by my input. “Something just doesn’t add up,” he concluded. “I have Asperger’s syndrome,” I offered. “I was emotional – upset, so I wanted to walk,” unable to think of a better answer that would help him understand. “You have what?,” the officer asked, confused. “Asperger’s syndrome. It’s on the Autistic spectrum,” I responded. “I see,” he said.
“You ever been arrested?,” officer Mueller inquired, brusquely. “Huh?,” I asked, shocked. “Have you ever been arrested before?,” he repeated slowly, somewhat annoyed. “Well, no. I…,” I began to say, shaking my head, completely flustered, and struggling to speak. I was in absolute disagreement with his entire line of questioning, and wanted to end his interview with me. “No?,” he interrupted. “That took a while. Are you sure? Because, I can check right now. And, if you’re not telling me the truth, I’m gonna find out,” he stated, pointing at me. “I…,” I began, but still couldn’t muster the words. “Step back from the car!” he commanded me, suddenly, while motioning me away with a wave of his hand. “Wha-? Oh,” I said, confused by his shift in demeanor, and still trying to process it. Flushed with anxiety, I stepped back onto the curb, and further back, onto the grass.
As Mueller exited his cruiser, my phone began to ring. I lifted it, and looked at the screen. It was 4:14pm, and the caller ID showed my husband’s name and picture. “That’s – that’s – my husband. Should I answer it?,” I managed to ask the officer, nervously. “No. Let it go to voicemail,” the he instructed me, as he made his way towards the rear of his vehicle. I pressed the “silent” button to stop my ringtone from playing, and slipped the phone into my pocket. When I looked up, he was beckoning me towards him.
I quickly made my way to the back of Mueller’s police cruiser. “You don’t have anything illegal on you, do you?,” the officer asked. “No,” I replied. “I want to make sure you don’t have any burglar tools on you. Wanna empty your pockets right here for me?,” the officer asked, while pointing to the closed trunk door of his cruiser. “Umm… okay,” I replied, hesitantly reaching into my pocket, hoping that the rain water wouldn’t damage my electronics. One at a time, I removed my smartphone, my wireless car key, my money, my change, my bedroom key, and lastly, a 3 inch pocket knife that was clipped to my belt – placing them all into a pile on the top of cruiser’s trunk door. “I’ll be taking that,” said the officer, immediately snatching the knife from the the pile of my belongings.
“Okay. Now, open your jacket and put your hands on the hood of the car, so I can make sure there’s nothing else,” officer Mueller instructed me. Instead, I simply removed my jacket altogether, and handed it to him, placing my hands on the hood of the car, palm down, afterwards. Though it was raining, and I was now getting uncomfortably wet because of it, I was simply unwilling to allow this man’s hands disappear underneath my clothing. I had high hopes that it would dissuade him from touching me. My phone began to ring again. It was my husband, calling back because I had not picked up the phone before. I still didn’t answer. [Call time confirmed as 4:16pm in phone call log]
Officer Mueller frisked my jacket, and went through its pockets, removing my wallet. He immediately began to rifle through it. “I see a card here, with a case number for the Rutherford police. What’s that about?,” he asked, pausing his search to look up at me. “Oh,” I replied, after a moment of thought. “That’s from the time I was bit by a dog,” I said, motioning to the outer thigh of my left leg. The officer remained silent, still scrutinizing me. “A big German shepherd,” I continued, indicating his size with my hands.
Mueller returned to searching my wallet. He pulled out a number of receipts, and then, began looking through pictures. My phone began to ring for a third time. It was my husband again. I still didn’t answer. [Call time confirmed as 4:18pm in phone call log]
As I awaited, a second police cruiser, heading from the direction of Valley Blvd, travelled towards us. It slowed down as to a stop as it passed, and I spotted a single officer within. This new officer asked Mueller if he required help. He declined, then held my pocket knife overhead, so that the new officer could see it. “Check out the knife,” he said. “Hmmm,” the new officer said, scrutinizing me. “You look pretty nervous. Why are you so nervous?,” he asked, suspiciously. “I have difficulty speaking to strangers,” I replied. “We’re not strangers. We’re police officers,” officer Mueller interjected. I snorted in derision, tempted to remind him of his lying claim that I smelled like “garbage,” though I did not dare escalate the situation.
After confirming one more time that his presence wasn’t required, the new officer pulled off in his cruiser. Officer Mueller went back to his interrogation. “Do you have any drugs on you?,” No,” I responded, shaking my head. “Are you on any medications?,” he asked. “No,” I replied, shaking my head. “I’m doing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy,” I added. “Behavior Therapy?,” he questioned. “Yeah. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy,” I repeated. “So, I can talk to others,” I explained. “Also, to help me drive the car more, too,” I added. “What are you doing with a knife on you?,” the officer asked. “Didn’t you hear what I said before?,” I asked. “I got bit by a huge dog. I have it for protection,” I continued.
As I gave my explanation to officer Mueller, a black vehicle with tinted windows pulled up behind us. It was a detective. Mueller walked over to the driver’s side window of the vehicle, and spoke with the occupant, who remained within the vehicle. He then came back over to me, and once again, instructed me to face his cruiser with my legs apart, and put my hands on the top of the trunk door. I complied, and he quicky patted down my front and back pockets, then frisked the insides and outsides of my legs and waistline. Soon after he completed this task, the detective vehicle pulled off.
Finally, officer Mueller told me to collect my belongings from the top of the cruiser’s trunk. I breathed a sigh of relief, and began to return my possessions to my pockets. “I want you to head to the avenue and right there on the corner, you’re gonna catch the very next bus all the way out of here. I know you have enough money on to pay for it, so you have no excuse not to,” he stated. “I don’t want to see your face in Wood-ridge anymore. If you come back here, you’ll be arrested. You got it?,” he added. As he did so, my phone began to ring for a fourth time. Again, it was my husband. And, still, I couldn’t answer. [Call time confirmed as 4:22pm in phone call log].
I agreed with the officer’s unjust, gang-like demands, quickly collecting my things, very eager to leave. After slipping my jacket back on, he handed me back my ID. “Thanks,” I said, taking it from him, and tucking it away. “Here,” he said, offering up my pocket knife. “I’m going to give this back to you, but you better leave it home from now on,” he warned. “I will. Thanks,” I said, taking it from his hand, and quickly dropping it into my pocket. Finally done, the officer headed for the driver’s door of his cruiser. I headed towards Valley Blvd.
At 4:25pm I called my husband back, told him where I was, and asked him to come and pick me up. I spotted a pharmacy down the block, “Digino’s Apothecary,” and entered, to shelter myself from the rain, and to hide myself from officer Mueller. I walked the isles for a while, then grabbed a few items, and payed for them at 4:42pm, afterwards, standing outside the store. A few minutes later, my husband arrived. I quickly got in the car, eager to leave – and, completely unaware that all was not over, yet.
As we drove, my husband gave me the usual lecture about wandering, while I explained that I was going to the 7-11 in Hackensack, like I had done previously. After going back and forth on the issue, I finally let my husband know what had happened between myself and officer Mueller. I reminded him that my Autistic traits often arouse undue suspicion from others, while also making me a target for victimization, and that I should have the right not to leave the house because of it. This angered him, and he insisted that we go to the Wood-Ridge police station to file a complaint. I reluctantly agreed.
My husband and I arrived at the station a short time later and entered the station lobby. He approached the window to the desk officer, and asked to file a complaint against an officer. With this, the officer’s demeanor immediately shifted to hostile, as he demanded to know exactly why. When my husband began to explain to the officer what had taken place, the officer informed my husband that only I could file a complaint, not him. With this, my husband began to explain to the officer that I was Autistic and social phobic, with trouble speaking to strangers. As he did, officer Mueller entered the lobby, with another officer following him. Without hesitation, he told my husband that he was justified in his treatment of me because I was behaving suspiciously. He also added that I shouldn’t bother filing a complaint, since he was nice enough to let me walk away with my knife, even though he could still press charges against me for it, even now. With this, he asked me if I still had my knife in my possession. When I told him that it was not, he asked me if it was in the car. Again, I replied that it was not.
I explained to Mueller that he had no right to order me not to return to Wood-Ridge, and that I most certainly didn’t smell like garbage. He shrugged off his comments, nonchalantly, admitting that he used the same threat regularly during the course of his job, while also maintained his story that I smelled like garbage. Then, he asked my husband what kind of car we drove. When my husband replied, Mueller inquired further, “the one parked right down the street with the expired tags?” “My tags aren’t expired,” my husband replied. Mueller then cited the date of expiration, which was months prior. “No. My tags are good,” my husband maintained. “We’ll go and check right now, he added.” “Yeah. You go right ahead,” the officer replied. We exited the police station, and to our surprise, there was a police cruiser parked right across the street from our car. We entered our car and my husband checked our registration. Indeed, our tags were expired. My husband realized that he’d been under the mistaken belief that we had registered for our car for two years, much like our inspection sticker.
My husband and I walked back towards the station, and entered the lobby. Mueller was smiling, along with his partner, and the officer at the desk. “So, where is the DMV, so I can take care of the tags real quick?, ” my husband asked. “It’s closed for today. You’ll have to wait until tomorrow,” the officer stated. “Okay. Well, we’ll just go to the DMV tomorrow, then come back afterwards to file the complaint,” my husband stated, matter of factly. Mueller again suggested that we forget about filing a complaint, because he could arrest me for the knife he found in my possession earlier, even though he had let me leave with at the time. “You told me that you would arrest me if I came back,” I replied. “You were out in the rain, walking through the neighborhood-,” Mueller began to explain. “She wasn’t even doing anything wrong,” my husband interjected, annoyed. “This is a free country, and she can go anywhere she pleases,” he added. “I told my husband how you told me to get on a bus, and leave town,” I replied. “That’s it. I’m through talking. The car’s getting towed,” Mueller snapped, annoyed, storming out of the precinct. The officer who accompanied him followed closely behind. “That’s such bullshit… It’s discrimination,” I said to my husband, upset, as we followed them both.
Officer Mueller walked up to the waiting police cruiser that my husband and I had previously spotted, and gave him the order to call in the tow. “This isn’t fair! It’s discrimination!,” I cried, repeatedly, while having a small meltdown, even as Mueller matter-of-factly stated that we should have left things alone. “I’m recording everything that’s happening,” stated the other officer with him, pointing to a small black box on his belt. “Keep saying that, and I’ll arrest you for for making false statements to us,” he concluded. “I don’t care what you record. I’m not worried. I have nothing to hide. I’m saying the truth, and I have a right to speak the truth,” I replied, frantically, determined to maintain my ground. “Don’t worry about it. Don’t even talk to him anymore,” my husband interjected.” “We’re gonna file our report, and there’s nothing they can do about it,” he assured me. I tried to calm myself, and we began to remove our paperwork from our car, in preparation for it’s removal.
A few minutes later, a flatbed tow truck arrived. This pushed me directly into an emotional overload, and full meltdown. My husband quickly pulled me close, and squeezed me tight, calming me down. The police demanded our key, explaining that they would be forced to damage our transmission, otherwise, by forcing it onto the truck while in the parked position. We handed it off, and watched our car get towed. During this time, the officer in the cruiser gave us a $150 ticket for our expired tags. We then got the impound information from the officers. With this, I angrily stormed back into the precinct, paces ahead of my husband, while chanting expletives about the situation. Once inside, I brusquely stepped to the window and LOUDLY asked for a complaint form from the desk officer. “You’re gonna have to give me your ID, first,” the officer replied. “Here,” I snapped, as I slammed it down, and crammed it into the window slot, just as my husband entered the lobby. The desk officer took my offering, and began entering my information onto a sheet of paper, verifying each and every piece of information with me, as he did. After what seemed like forever, he finally handed me a complaint form. I quickly filled it out, and returned it to him, noting that he was already working on a duplicate copy of the report at his desk. He told me that I would receive a call from the captain in about two weeks, once my complaint was forwarded to him for investigation by internal affairs. With nothing left to do but wait, we left…