ATLANTIC CITY — More than 50 community members packed the lobby of City Hall on Thursday morning to support a police officer who could lose his job for allegedly using excessive force and improperly filing records in 2014.
Officer Huan Le, 43, is facing possible termination from the Atlantic City Police Department for an incident that occurred in May 2014 and left one man seeking medical attention.
Following an internal affairs investigation, police Chief Henry White filed disciplinary charges in 2015 against Le for improper use of force and not submitting required paperwork.
A spokesman for the Police Department declined to comment on the personnel matter.
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Le’s supporters, which included members of the Vietnamese, Chinese, Hispanic, Bangladeshi and African-American communities within Atlantic City, said they believed the 13-year veteran of the force was being treated unfairly, particularly given the department’s history with excessive force complaints.
Community activist Charles Goodman said other officers have cost the city’s taxpayers “millions of dollars” from excessive force lawsuits and never received the “egregious” treatment shown toward Le.
“(Le) is a stand-up guy,” Goodman said during character testimony in front of an administrative law judge at a hearing Thursday morning. “He’s always looking to help, whether he’s in uniform or as a civilian.”
Le was named in 51 uses of force between 2012 and 2016, seven of which were recorded in 2014. Le’s annual salary in 2018 was $93,869.81, public records show.
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Fifth Ward Councilman Chuen “Jimmy” Cheng said he thought Le was being scapegoated. Cheng told retired Superior Court Judge Steven Perskie, who served as the hearing officer Thursday, that he has known Le for almost two decades.
“He’s a great guy,” Cheng said before the hearing. “Hopefully, this case will be dismissed.”
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, where Vadell dealt with the woman and Le encountered three individuals in another room. One of the individuals, Kevin Suarez, and Le got into a verbal disagreement, which resulted in the officer restraining him with handcuffs.
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According to Le’s attorney, no arrests were made and the two officers left without further incident.
Vadell, who was shot in the head while investigating a robbery in 2016, has since retired from the department.
Suarez later sought medical attention at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center’s Atlantic City Campus for “bruising and swelling” on the left side of his head.
Joseph Rodgers, Le’s attorney, made a motion to have the disciplinary charges dismissed based on the age of the case and because other involved parties were unavailable for cross-examination. Rodgers argued Le’s Sixth Amendment right to confront an accuser or witness was being denied.
“My client has had this hanging over his head for nearly five years,” Rodgers said. “It creates a tremendous burden.”
Perskie denied the request.
A second hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. Wednesday.
Matt Rogers, president of Police Benevolent Association Local 24, said the union supports Le and “looks forward to the city finding in his favor.”