WILDWOOD, N.J. — Mayor Ernie Troiano defended the actions of his police department Tuesday in tackling and twice punching a woman on the Wildwood beach Saturday, saying the woman was "by far the aggressor here," and adding that women in general can be more difficult to subdue than men.
"I worked as a doorman, a bouncer," said Troiano, whose father owned a nightclub. "They can be hard to control. They're kicking, they don't care."
"Everybody's trying to paint this young lady as an upstanding model citizen," he said. "She's on probation for four years. She chose to attack the officer, spit on the officer. Look I don't care who you are and what you are, the worst people [to try to subdue] are women."
Stephen Dicht, attorney for the woman, Emily Weinman, 20, called the mayor's comments "irresponsible," and said police were exaggerating the charges.
"The number of people who think she got what she deserved is appalling," Dicht said Tuesday.
Troiano said police body-camera footage would paint a different picture than what was viewed on a video that was viewed globally over the busy holiday weekend.
The officers, who Troiano said were Class II officers hired for the summer season, have been reassigned to desk duty pending an internal investigation. They have not been publicly identified. "We're not dealing with an angel here," Troiano said Tuesday. "She chose to take on the police. The police did their job."
Weinman, of Philadelphia, defended herself in a Facebook message to an Inquirer and Daily News reporter Monday and said it was not true that she spit on the police.
"[T]he cops smashed my head into the ground when he tackled me and I spit the sand out of my mouth," she said in the message. "So no, it is not true."
Also Tuesday, Gov. Murphy, speaking to reporters in Hoboken, called the incident "quite disturbing," according to NJ.com.
"I have not seen the video, but it is quite disturbing based on the description," Murphy said.
According to the report on NJ.com, Murphy added that "the overwhelming percentage of folks … who protect us are extraordinary … but if you see an example of excess force you've got to pursue and figure out why the heck that happened because based on everything I heard it was pretty darn disturbing."
The video of Weinman being punched twice in the area of her head on the beach has been viewed more than 6.4 million times since being posted by Lexy Hewitt, who said she woke up from a nap nearby shortly after 4 p.m. Saturday on the Wildwood beach, rolled over, and started filming.
Wildwood police said Weinman was charged with two counts of aggravated assault on a police officer, aggravated assault by spitting bodily fluids at/on a police officer, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, obstruction, and being a minor in possession of alcohol.
Dicht, Weinman's attorney, said the mayor "should not be commenting on the character of this young woman without knowing anything about her or her background."
"I'm very disturbed how she has been portrayed by so many on social media," Dicht said via Facebook message.
He said that Weinman was "in and out of the police station very quickly" and that police are "exaggerating the charges."
"Where is the outrage over placing untrained cops on the street, or in this case the beach?" Dicht said of the Class II officers.
Troiano said he expected police to release body-camera footage of the incident that would show "a whole different story."
"She's a combatant," Troiano said. "Sometimes police have to do what they have to do to stun them."
Cape May County Prosecutor Jeffrey Sutherland said that the incident was under review by his office but that he would not be issuing any statement on the matter. He said the police video footage would be released to the public "once the initial investigation is completed by the Wildwood Police Department's Internal Affairs Unit."
Court records show that Weinman was on probation from previous charges in Philadelphia.
According to court records, Weinman was arrested on Sept. 6, 2016, on charges of burglary, simple assault, recklessly endangering another person, criminal mischief, and criminal trespass. On Nov. 20, 2017, she pleaded guilty to misdemeanor simple assault and misdemeanor "recklessly endangering another person." She was sentenced to four years' probation and ordered to pay $7,562 in restitution.
In that incident, Philadelphia police said she entered the home of a woman she believed was sleeping with her ex-boyfriend and "started swinging" at the woman. The two began fighting, according to the police report, with Weinman being thrown to the ground and held down briefly by the complainant before being able to run away. The complainant in the case said Weinman ripped off her necklace and left her with cuts and scrapes
Weinman said in a Facebook post, since taken down, that she had gone to the beach with her 18-month-old daughter and had not been drinking, though she was in possession of alcohol. She acknowledged refusing to give her name and asking police if they didn't have something better to do than harass underage drinkers.
Mayor Troiano called the entire incident "a shame for everybody involved," including the people "who had to witness it," but defended the training level of the Class II officers and their response.
Others questioned the training of the officers and their inability to de-escalate the incident, even when provoked by the woman's actions.
"De-escalation should be the number-one priority," said Paul Hetznecker, a civil rights attorney in Philadelphia. "If you empower an individual with the authority of an officer and the power to make an arrest and carry a weapons, you should also train them to de-escalate a confrontation."
Robert Tarver, a Toms River, N.J.-based civil rights attorney who has represented victims of police excessive force, said the woman's response to being tackled and held down around the head was not a sign of resisting, but a physical reflex.
"What most people don't realize is, when you're grabbed by a police officer in either a choke hold or any type of hold you will reflexively move," Tarver said. "That's when they say, 'Stop resisting, stop resisting.' She's really not resisting. She's being thrown and grabbed. People think the natural reaction is to rag-doll it. Well you can't just rag-doll it."
Tarver said police have to be able to find some middle ground in situations like this before resorting to violence.
"I don't have an issue with them being on the beach," he said. "I don't have an issue with police presence overall. I do have an issue when the police presence becomes synonymous with extreme violence. It seems they know no other way to resolve an issue than you offended me and now I have got to go 100 percent. There's a very extreme authoritarian tone in all of this."