law enforcement sources

“Anonymous” Threatens Vineland PD as Investigation on Death of Man in Custody Continues

Officials are investigating a video threat, purportedly made by the hacking group Anonymous, demanding they release the names of the three New Jersey police officers involved in the arrest of a man who died while in custody.

The YouTube video, which was posted Monday, features a figure in a Guy Fawkes mask, popularized in the movie “V for Vendetta,” speaking in a generic, computerized voice. The person claims to be part of Anonymous and warns Vineland Police and the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office they have 24 hours to release the names of the officers who arrested 32-year-old Phillip White. 

“We know the identities of the two officers who initially encountered Phillip and we also have the identity of the K-9 officer that let his dog attack a non-combatant citizen,” the person says in the video.

The person demands that the Vineland PD place two of the officers on administrative leave, relieve the K9 officer from duty pending charges and release all dashcam footage of the incident.

The person also threatens to release personal information on the Prosecutor’s Office and Vineland Police Department every hour until they release the names of the officers.

“We will also begin cyber-attacks on your website and your databases until our demands are met,” the person says.

On Tuesday, names that a user claimed are that of the arresting officers were posted on a website affiliated with Anonymous. Neither the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office nor the Vineland Police Department confirmed whether those names are actually the officers.

The Prosecutor's Office and the Vineland Police Department told NBC10 they were taking the threat seriously. They also said they were taking the appropriate steps to protect any exposed officers.

White died March 31 while in police custody. Officials with the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s office said the ordeal began shortly before 11 a.m. when Vineland Police officers responded to a call for service for a disorderly person on the 100 block of Grape Street in Vineland.

“Shortly thereafter, officers called for medical assistance in response to White appearing to be in respiratory distress,” a spokesperson for the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office said. “During the incident White was handcuffed and restrained.”

White was placed in an emergency vehicle and taken to the hospital, according to officials. Officials say an officer was with him at the time. At some point, White became unresponsive and medical personnel instituted CPR, according to investigators. He was later pronounced dead at the hospital. What remains in dispute are the events that occurred immediately before White’s death.

Witnesses told NBC10 the responding officers were extremely physical with White after he was already restrained and unconscious on the street.

"They punched him, stomped him, kicked him and then they let the dog out of the car," said Ricardo Garcia. "The dog bit him on his face and around his body. There's no call for that.”

Law enforcement sources disputed witness accounts however, telling NBC10 White engaged in a violent struggle with one of the officers after they called an ambulance for him. They also said at times White was combative and that he never lost consciousness while he was apprehended.

NBC10 obtained cellphone video taken after police responded to the disorderly persons call. The video shows White lying on the ground surrounded by three officers as well as a barking police dog. It appears to show the dog biting White in the upper body.

An officer is also seen telling the person recording to turn over his cell phone.

A top ranking law enforcement official and former use of force instructor who is not involved in the case analyzed the cellphone video. The official said the officers should have called off the dog immediately after bringing White under control. He also said the officer who demanded the person recording the incident to turn over his cell phone had no right to do so.

White's family retained attorney Conrad Benedetto to conduct an independent investigation into his death, according to a news release.

Another, grainier video, depicting the same interaction between White and Vineland Police, began spreading on social media Thursday. The Cumberland County Prosecutor Office confirmed that video, which runs for 76 seconds, is under review as part of the investigation into what occurred in the moments between officers arrived at the scene and White's transport to the hospital.

Officials also released the 911 and police radio calls of the incident. In the 911 recording, which was made before police arrived, the caller tells the dispatcher White is "freaking out," "going crazy," and "screaming."

"He's screaming up there," the caller says. "I don't know what the h*** is wrong with him."

In the police dispatch, an officer states that White was trying to steal his gun moments before the arrest.

"The guy's trying to grab my gun," the officer says. "Guys, have the other units slow down. He's in cuffs."

Anyone with information on any video recordings of the incident should call Sergeant Scott Collins (856-466-5127) or SAC E. Ronald Cuff (609-381-4890) of the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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