2 New Jersey police officers charged in vandalism-as-retaliation case

ASBURY PARK, New Jersey (WABC) -- Two New Jersey police officers are facing criminal charges after authorities say they retaliated against someone who had filed a complaint against them.

Asbury Park officers Stephen Martinsen, 29, and Thomas Dowling, 26, face conspiracy, weapons and criminal mischief charges.

The Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office says the charges stem from two separate incidents of vandalism to two vehicles, one in Ocean Grove and the other in Asbury Park, between approximately 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. on or about Tuesday, September 3.

It is alleged that Martinsen and Dowling purposely damaged both vehicles, both owned by the same person. Officials say the vehicles' tires were slashed and other damage occurred.

The vehicles' owner, Ernest Mignoli, had filed an administrative complaint against both officers several days before the vandalism incidents.

"It didn't even fathom to me that it was police officers," said Mignoli, whose Jeep and Prius were damaged in the incidents.

"I was shocked and it re-invigorated a fear that I'm around these people all the time," he said.

Mignoli is known in the Asbury Park community for criticizing police and politics in the town. But authorities say that does not give anyone the right to go after someone, just because they file reports against police.

"We are aggressively and robustly trying to weed out those few and far between bad apples, and make sure that if they're committing crimes, they're going to face justice," said Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni.

Prosecutors wouldn't reveal the nature of the complaint the alleged victim filed against the officers.

Martinsen, who has been part of the department since 2013, was suspended without pay. Dowling, an officer since May of 2015, was dismissed from the force.

"The vast majority of law enforcement officers perform their duties with integrity and honor," Gramiccioni said. "However, when a police officer takes advantage of the very citizens they are sworn to protect, it erodes public confidence and violates the public's trust. Such behavior will never be acceptable or tolerated."

Authorities say they have recovered the knives used to damage the tires, the bikes used in the crimes, and the masks the officers wore.

If convicted of the top charge, both officers face up to 20 years in New Jersey state prison.

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