Video: 'Anonymous' releases names of NJ cops following in-custody death

Attorney believes drugs caused suspect's death, not the use of a K-9 and other force in the March 31 incident

By Michael Boren
The Philadelphia Inquirer

VINELAND, N.J. — An attorney representing the Vineland, N.J., police officers who arrested a man who died in police custody last week said Wednesday that he expects a toxicology report to show that Phillip White, 32, was on PCP and other drugs when he died.

Stuart Alterman, who was hired by the police union to represent the officers, said he believes the drugs caused White's death, not the use of a police dog and other force in the March 31 incident.

"Phillip caused his own demise," Alterman said. "And it's unfortunate. And I think any reasonable person views this as a tragic circumstance. But it was not caused by the actions of the Vineland police officers."

Vineland Police Chief Timothy Codispoti said Wednesday he could not comment on the preliminary toxicology report until the Cumberland County Prosecutor's Office releases it. Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae declined to say when that will happen or elaborate on the case.

Codispoti said, "What we're interested in is the truth. That's what we want, it's what the family wants. We want the truth of what occurred here. That includes the actions of everyone involved."

White's family and a rights activist, citing witnesses, allege that the officers punched and beat White before he was placed in an ambulance for respiratory distress. They also point to a bystander's cellphone video, which they say shows a police dog biting White, of Vineland, as he lies on the ground.

Police said they used the dog because White was reaching for one of the officers' weapons.

Walter Hudson, chairman of the Salem County-based civil rights group National Awareness Alliance, said that authorities were trying to demonize "the one who suffered the death or the injury, as opposed to the ones who implemented the inhuman acts."

"Even if the autopsy reports come out with Mr. Phillip White being on PCP, whatever the case may be, he still did not deserve to die," Hudson said.

The withholding of the officers' names drew attention Monday from the hacking group Anonymous, which threatened to attack the Vineland police department's website and expose the names if they were not released by the following day.

Tuesday afternoon, the hacker group posted online the names, addresses, and phone numbers of two of the officers, Louis Platania and Jeffrey Travaline. Later in the day, Chief Codispoti confirmed the names and that of a third officer, Rich Janasiak.

Janasiak and Platania have been placed on administrative leave, which is standard procedure in death cases. Travaline was only providing assistance, Codispoti said.

On Wednesday, Codispoti said the prosecutor's office had asked him to initially withhold the officers' names, and that the threat by Anonymous had nothing to do with releasing them. He said the department was planning to do so when it posted the recording of the 911 call and police dispatches from the incident, which it did Tuesday afternoon.

In the 911 call, a man told dispatchers of White, "He's screaming, I don't know what the hell's wrong with him."

A few minutes later, one of the responding officers was recorded yelling, "Reaching for my gun!" before White was handcuffed.

White became unresponsive while inside the ambulance. Autopsy results are pending.

Copyright 2015 The Philadelphia Inquirer

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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