ATLANTIC CITY — A city police officer facing disciplinary action for an incident that occurred almost five years ago will have to wait a little bit longer to learn his fate.
Retired Superior Court Judge Steven Perskie said he needed more time to make a determination about recommending discipline for Officer Huan Le following a nearly three-hour hearing Friday afternoon at the Public Safety Building. He acknowledged that “justice delayed is justice denied” and vowed to make his recommendations as soon as possible.
Friday’s public hearing was attended by nearly 60 Le supporters who held signs and chanted for justice outside the Public Safety Building on Atlantic Avenue.
Le has been accused of using excessive force and failing to file proper documentation related to an incident in May 2014 that left one man seeking medical treatment at the hospital.
Charles Goodman, a community activist and supporter of Le, said the officer was being scapegoated by the department. He noted that other Atlantic City police officers have cost the city “millions of dollars” in excessive force lawsuits and kept their positions.
Le was named in 51 uses of force between 2012 and 2016, seven of which were recorded in 2014. A use of force does not automatically constitute excess. Police are authorized to use force to make an arrest or defend themselves in the line of duty.
Asked whether he would support other officers under similar circumstances, Goodman said it was a matter of justice not being equally distributed.
“They’re trying to railroad (Le) for something the Prosecutor’s Office cleared him for years ago,” said Goodman.
Joseph Rodgers, Le’s attorney, confirmed prosecutors investigated a May 2014 incident but never filed charges.
Le, 43, a 13-year veteran of the Police Department, could be facing suspension or termination. His salary in 2018 was $93,869.81, public records show.
The Rev. Andy Vu, a Buddhist monk from a temple in Egg Harbor Township, said Le was an asset to the Vietnamese community and a “good officer.”
Peter Nguyen testified as a character witness on Le’s behalf Friday, the seventh individual to do so over the course of two hearings. At a hearing in late March, six people, including 5th Ward Councilman Chuen “Jimmy” Cheng, spoke to Le’s honesty and integrity.
Le testified Friday, taking questions from his attorney and the city’s lawyer, as well as Perskie. According to all three, Le’s testimony was largely consistent with a sworn deposition conducted by internal affairs in 2015.
Following the internal affairs investigation, police Chief Henry White filed disciplinary charges against Le in 2015. Le has been working as a uniformed police officer since that time.
On May 14, 2014, Le and Officer Josh Vadell responded to a call about “fighting and yelling” in an apartment on North Hartford Avenue about 12:35 a.m. When the officers arrived, a woman answered the door claiming to be alone, but Vadell and Le heard other voices.
The officers entered the apartment. Vadell dealt with the woman, and Le encountered three people in another room. One of the three, Kevin Suarez, and Le got into a verbal disagreement, which resulted in the officer restraining Suarez with handcuffs using a “control maneuver.” Le also told Suarez, according to his testimony Friday, that he was arresting Suarez for obstruction.
Once the situation was deescalated, Suarez was released and no charges were filed.
Le did not file the required paperwork informing his supervisory shift officer about the use of force.
Suarez sought medical attention at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center’s Atlantic City Campus 19 hours later for “bruising and swelling” on the left side of his head. He filed a complaint with the city May 15.
According to testimony provided by witnesses of the incident and introduced during the hearings, Le punched Suarez in the head. Le and his attorney have denied that allegation.