Corynne McKenney-Collier’s lawyer Stanley King filed a tort notice last week of intentions to file a lawsuit alleging “unnecessary and excessive force” by Galloway police.
Shortly after leaving home for work about 7 a.m., Corynne McKenney-Collier’s vehicle swerved on a South Jersey road, striking a tree.
After having an epileptic seizure, she has little recollection of what happened next, save for police bodycam video she obtained when she went seeking answers about the May 31 episode. Now, she is considering a lawsuit against police for how she says she was treated after the crash after they assumed she was under the influence of drugs.
A Galloway Township police officer was traveling behind McKenney-Collier on Moss Mill Road when he saw her 2016 Suburban veer off the Atlantic County road. Responding to the scene, the officer immediately suspected a possible overdose and ordered McKenney-Collier to unlock the door. More officers arrived and repeatedlyattempted to break the driver’s side window.
“It’s gotta be a drug thing,” an officer can be heard saying in the bodycam video. “She must have shot up something.”
Eventually, McKenney-Collier unlocked the door and police pulled her from the truck. Officers searched for drugs and checked her pockets for needles. In a search of the car, an officer initially asks whether a cigarette lighter was a pen vape, typically used for cannabis, nicotine or other substances.
“She took something,” an officer said. “Her mouth is all foaming.”
McKenney-Collier obtained the bodycam video under the New Jersey Open Public Records Act and provided it to The Inquirer. Portions of the video were redacted by the police, leaving some parts distorted with audio only.
Civil rights lawyer Stanley King, who represents McKenney-Collier, has requested unedited copies of the bodycam video. He filed a tort notice last week of intentions to possibly file a lawsuit alleging “unnecessary and excessive force” by Galloway police.
According to the notice, McKenney-Collier was dragged to the ground by police, resulting in torn clothing and injuries to her back and rotator cuff, as well as swelling and bruising to her wrists from “excessively tight handcuffing.” She was kept at the crash scene for nearly a half-hour before she was taken to a local hospital, the notice said, where doctors confirmed that she suffered a seizure and that there were no drugs in her bloodstream.
“The inhumanity was incredible,” said King, of the firm Javerbaum Wurgaft Hicks Kahn Wikstrom & Sinins. “A dog on the side of the road would have been treated with more empathy.”
Galloway Township Police Chief Richard D. Barber was unavailable to speak about the case. A spokesman, Capt. Eric Hendrickson, declined comment, citing the pending legal case. Township solicitor Marc Nehmad did not respond to a message at his law office.
Brian Higgins, an adjunct professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice who viewed the bodycam video, said it was troubling that police automatically assumed McKenney-Collier was under the influence, without any evidence. He noted that there was no indication they conducted a sobriety test.
“They draw this conclusion and treat her as if she is a criminal consuming illegal narcotics,” said Higgins, the former chief of the Bergen County Police. “The police are supposed to be there to help.”
McKenney-Collier and her husband, Richard, believe race played a part in the case. The couple is Black; the officers who responded are white.
“Black lives matter, where?” said Richard Collier, 51.
McKenney-Collier, 49, of Egg Harbor City, said she was heading to her job at the nearby Mrs. Barnes Play House Daycare, when the crash happened. Diagnosed with epilepsy eight years ago, McKenney-Collier said it was her first seizure in two years and the first while driving. She believes a reaction to a new pain medicine may have caused the seizure.
At the time of the crash, she was wearing a silver, personalized epilepsy bracelet with her nickname “Cory,” which she usually responds to after a seizure. At one point in the video, McKenney-Collier mentions bracelets on her arm. .
In the bodycam, a disoriented McKenney-Collier repeatedly pleaded with police “please help me.” Police observed thatshe was wearing a seatbelt and told a dispatcher that it appeared unlikely she had a head injury. Police told her she could go to the hospital or with them.
“Look, I need help,” she pleads. “Please help me. Please, God.”
Police handcuffed McKenney-Collier and placed her in the back of a police cruiser while they searched her truck, tossing items aside. She didn’t respond when an officer asked whether she needed any of her personal belongings, so they left her cell phone and purse in the truck, which was left running, according to her husband, who came to pick it up.
McKenney-Collier asked the officers several times to remove the handcuffs. “Ouch, officer,” she could be heard shouting.
“Ma’am, you are under arrest, stop resisting,” an officer said. “We’ll let you go after you get all your charges.”
Shortly after an ambulance pulled off to take McKenney-Collier to the Atlantic City Medical Center in Pomona, her brother, LaMont McKenney, arrived at the crash scene. He recognized his sister’s truck and asked police to confirm her identity.
“She has seizures,” her brother told police.
“She doesn’t use any substances?” the officer asks in the video. No, the brother answered.
The officer notified the EMS that McKenney-Collier “may have a history of seizures.”
At the hospital, McKenney-Collier was handcuffed to a bed under police guard, King said. Doctors determined that she had suffered a seizure and released her, according to her discharge papers. No charges were filed against her.
McKenney-Collier said she initially went to the police department looking for answers about what happened. She was stunned by the bodycam video, watching it about 30 times.
She wants an apology from police. She wants police to undergo more training to help them better handle medical emergencies.
“I felt horrible that they treated me like that,” she said. “None of them helped me.”