Camden County Traffic Stop of ‘Sovereign Citizen’ Escalates Into Brawl
VOORHEES — A man who refused to give police his driver's license during a 2016 traffic stop is suing the township and police department claiming officers beat him up for no reason.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court last month by Camden resident Sean M. Shaw, who is representing himself. Shaw is also suing officers Kevin Branagan and Michael J. Hagner.
Shaw claims in the lawsuit that Hagner pulled him over on the afternoon of May 5, 2016, for an expired registration.
WPG's sister station, New Jersey 101.5, obtained body camera footage from Hagner through an Open Public Records Act request, and in it Shaw can be seen giving the officer his registration and insurance card, but not his license.
Hagner can be seen asking asking Shaw for his license several times, with Shaw repeatedly replying that he wanted to see the law that requires him to give the officer his license.
The lawsuit says that Hagner told him that he was the "subject of a traffic stop and was being detained."
Hagner said he was alerted to the expired registration through his onboard computer, according to a copy of the police report obtained by New Jersey 101.5. The registration had expired on April 31.
The police report says that during the traffic stop Shaw made a phone call to an unknown person, giving them information about the stop. While he said Shaw told him he had a valid license, he would not give it to the officer unless he had a "writ or warrant or anything like to obligate you to do so," the report says.
"While my investigation progressed I concluded based off of Mr. Shaw's statements and attitude, that Mr. Shaw was exhibiting 'Sovereign Citizen' beliefs," Hagner said in the report. "Through my training and experience I know "Sovereign Citizens" can and have displayed violence towards Law Enforcement."
Hagner wrote that because of this, and the fact that Shaw was being "extremely argumentative and non-compliant," he requested a second unit to the scene.
The Southern Poverty Law Center says Sovereign Citizens "believe that they get to decide which laws to obey and which to ignore, and they don't think they should have to pay taxes."
"The weapon of choice for sovereign citizens is paper," the Law Center says. "A simple traffic violation or pet-licensing case can end up provoking dozens of court filings containing hundreds of pages of pseudo-legal nonsense."
Toward the end of the six-minute video, which you can watch above, Branagan arrives on the scene and gives Shaw a "last warning" to produce his license or he would "yank" him out of the car. At that point, both officers direct Shaw to get out of the car before pulling him from the vehicle.
Shaw's lawsuit says the officers pulled him out "before allowing Mr. Shaw a reasonable opportunity to exit the vehicle."
The video does not clearly show what happened after Shaw is pulled out. Hagner said in his report that the cord broke from the camera, which caused it to stop recording. Shaw's lawsuit claims that the officers "physically assaulted and beat him."
Hagner's report claims Shaw "began to pull away and became combative with Officer Bragnan and I," and that "Mr. Shaw began to swing his arms striking Officer Bragnan and I with closed fists." Hagner said he started to punch Shaw "in an attempt to subdue" him.
He said the altercation continued to escalate with the three men falling to the ground. The officers were able to get control of Shaw, who Hagner said proceeded to put "both his arms under his body to the center of his chest" in an effort to not be handcuffed. Hagner also said he used pepper spray on Shaw, but that did not seem to help.
After being put under arrest, Shaw claimed to have trouble breathing and both he and Hagner were taken to a local hospital, police said. Shaw was charged with obstruction, two counts of aggravated assault on a police officer, resisting arrest and criminal mischief.
Shaw said that the charges were "postponed" for three years after being admitted into a pretrial intervention program in July, which allows charges to be dropped if a defendant remains out of trouble.
He says that he suffered bodily injuries and emotional trauma, incurred economic injury, and sustained violations of his constitutional rights. Shaw also claims that his actions during the stop did not justify the use of force or the amount of force used against him.
Shaw is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.