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PATERSON — Spencer Finch, the veteran city cop charged with aggravated assault and various other crimes in an incident recorded by another officer’s body camera, is ready to give his side of what happened.
At the start of the criminal trial on Wednesday, prosecutor Peter Foy told the jury during his opening statement that video evidence would show that Finch slapped the face of a man involved in a domestic dispute and then struck him 14 times with a flashlight in May 2021.
Foy said Finch “pummeled” the man “without provocation, without just cause.”
After the man was handcuffed behind his back and sitting on the hallway floor of an apartment building, Finch drove his knee into the man’s face, Foy told the jury.
That official version of the incident has gone unchallenged for almost 30 months, while Finch has been fired from his police job, indicted on five charges and sued for millions of dollars.
Prosecutor's case 'completely misguided,' Finch's lawyer says
But Finch’s lawyer, Eric Kleiner, told the jury that a closer analysis of the video — along with testimony from law enforcement experts — would show that the prosecutor’s case is “completely misguided.”
Kleiner said Finch would testify about what his experience fighting crime in Paterson for 17 years told him about the “very dangerous situation” that unfolded in the building’s hallway.
“You need to hear from Spencer Finch what was going on in his mind,” Kleiner said.
Delays adressed: Why did it take 4 years to charge an indicted ex-Paterson cop?
Brandon Cosby, the man involved in the domestic dispute, was “out of control,” slamming his foot against the door of an apartment where his two young children and their mother were inside, Kleiner said.
Cosby made threats against people inside the apartment, and one of them showed Finch a text in which Cosby allegedly said the police officers were “going to have to shoot me,” Kleiner said.
The defense lawyer said the other cop at the scene, Edwin Martinez, should have arrested Cosby for making the threat, but instead, Finch was forced to intervene in a volatile scene. He repeatedly criticized Martinez’s handling of the situation, saying he should have been fired.
“Now the man they put on trial has to do it all,” Kleiner said of Finch.
What does the bodycam video show?
The body-camera video made public more than two years ago showed Finch push past Martinez and slap Cosby. But after that, it becomes hard to tell what was happening as Martinez got involved in the tussle, which blocked the camera for long periods of time.
Kleiner said Cosby had “super-human strength” as he body-slammed Finch and held Martinez down “like a rag doll.” The defense lawyer said Cosby grabbed at Finch’s gun belt, spilling ammunition to the floor.
“That scared the living heck out of him,” Kleiner said, asserting that Finch felt he was in “a death event.”
In speaking of Finch’s use of the flashlight on Cosby, the defense lawyer said his client was trying “to slow this man down.” He said Finch didn’t know if Cosby had a weapon.
Kleiner also offered his client’s explanation of why he hit Cosby in the face with his knee. The defense lawyer said the cop thought Cosby was getting ready to try to escape. He said Finch saw Cosby start moving his head towards Finch’s scrotum.
Kleiner said Finch “saved lives” by subduing Cosby.
“This trial is about vindication,” Kleiner asserted. “This trial is about it never happening again to the next Spencer Finch.”
Kleiner spoke for 75 minutes during his opening argument, or five times longer than Foy had done. Cosby has a lawsuit pending against Finch, the city of Paterson and the Police Department.
Finch's firing was groundbreaking: Here's why
Finch’s termination in the fall of 2021 was groundbreaking on two levels. It marked the first time in Paterson that a body-camera video recording was used as evidence for criminal charges against a city cop. It also represented the first time that city officials fired a police officers charged with crimes while the case was still pending. In the past, Paterson would put the accused cop on paid leave until the charges were resolved.
The Cosby case was one of two in which Finch has been indicted on assault and other charges for allegedly using excessive force against people he was arresting. He also was accused of attacking Justin Montgomery outside a deli on Crooks Avenue in December 2018.
The Montgomery incident happened before the encounter with Cosby. But authorities did not get an indictment against Finch in the Montgomery case until January 2023.
Prosecutors offered Finch a plea agreement covering both the Cosby and Montgomery allegations, but he rejected it, court records show.
Joe Malinconico is editor of Paterson Press. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Paterson NJ ex-police officer Spencer Finch to testify at trial