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'Nightmares': New Jersey teen locked in police van for 15 hours files suit

A New Jersey teen who was locked inside a police van cage for 15 hours without access to food, water or a bathroom, has sued the Fort Lee Police Department, its chief and 19 police officers.


Adam Kim, who was 17 at the time, was placed in the cage with four other young men, according to a civil complaint filed in U.S. District Court last month. Without a bathroom, the complaint says, the teens had to relieve themselves in front of each other. They also had to huddle together for warmth, as temperatures hovered below freezing and Kim was wearing just a T-shirt.

His lawyer, Nancy E. Lucianna, told the The Record that Kim, now a college freshman, is traumatized by what happened. Nightmares keep him from sleeping soundly and he has sought out therapy and medication to cope with the ordeal.


Around midnight on March 25, 2011, Fort Lee police officers responded to noise complaints stemming from a house party that Kim was attending.

The officers, according to Kim, referred to him and others as “chinks” and made “vulgar remarks” about how the females were dressed. Kim is Korean American.

The officers then loaded their police van with 14 teens – five, including Kim, were placed in the cage on the right. Five others were the cage on the left. The last four sat in seats in the van.

“Police officers opened both doors of the van and only allowed the left side occupants of the van to be removed,” the complaint says.

At 2 a.m., two police officers returned to the van and responded to a call at a fast food restaurant. Later, they were dispatched to Gotham City Diner. When the teens shouted, “Officer, officer,” no one responded.

They banged on doors and shouted at passers-by for help, to no avail. Eventually, the complaint says, an elderly man saw them and called police. Medics were called and the five young men were given food and water. 

Lucianna argues that Kim’s civil rights were violated.

“Adam Kim suffered severe mental and emotional anguish, loss of freedom, humiliation, and anxiety,” she wrote in the complaint. “He has suffered permanent damages due to the discriminatory acts.”

Police Chief Thomas Ripoli, who retired Monday because he had turned 65, the mandatory retirement age, refused to comment to The Record.

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