Philly Woman Sues Police After Being Arrested for Not Talking During Traffic Stop

This story was published on May 11, 2016

A Philadelphia woman who was arrested for refusing to answer questions during a traffic stop in New Jersey is speaking out after she sued state police.

Rebecca Musarra and her attorney Kevin Costello filed the federal civil rights lawsuit after the Oct. 16 stop on Route 519 near the border with Pennsylvania in Warren County. At least three troopers insisted after she was pulled over that refusing to answer questions was a criminal act, according to the lawsuit. The incident was captured on dashcam video obtained by through an open records request.

“It’s not comfortable watching it,” Musarra told NBC10. “When this happened, I was scared. I was frustrated. I was shaking.”

In the video, a trooper pulled Musarra over for suspected speeding, requested her license, registration and insurance, and asked if she knew why she was being pulled over. Musarra said she provided the documents but didn't respond to the troopers.

"You're going to be placed under arrest if you don't answer my questions," one of the troopers told her before she was handcuffed and taken to a police station. Musarra asked the troopers if she was being detained, and one of the troopers said, "Yeah, obstruction."

“I said I had a right not to answer his questions,” she said. “I am an attorney and I knew I had a right to.”

Musarra said a supervisor watched dashboard camera footage and let her go without charges.

Costello told NBC10 police violated Musarra’s civil and federal rights.

“They had every right to stop her and give her a speeding ticket if they wanted to,” he said. “But they did not have a right to arrest her simply for not answering questions.”

Musarra told NBC10 her parents worked in law enforcement and her grandfather was also a sheriff.

“Police have a really hard job to do and I respect that job,” she said. “But it’s made more difficult when there are troopers and police officers who don’t respect the law.”

Costello said it was an issue of trust.

“The public has to trust the police who carry badges and guns,” he said. “Know their limits and when police exceed those limits.”

Spokesmen for the state police and the attorney general's office, which is representing the troopers, declined to comment on the lawsuit due to the pending litigation. State police spokesman Capt. Stephen Jones said the department's internal affairs office conducts a review any time misconduct is alleged.

"In the event that problems are identified, training and/or disciplinary measures are implemented where appropriate," Jones said in an email.

Lawyers for the state have sought in court filings to have the case dismissed, claiming that the troopers "acted in good faith and without fraud or malice."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
Contact Us