Tuckerton Police Officer Justin Cherry Exonerated in Misconduct Charge

May 29, 2019

Suspended Tuckerton Police Cpl. Justin Cherry was exonerated by Superior Court Judge Rochelle Gizinski on May 20 after a bench trial on one count of official misconduct. The officer had been suspended without pay since April 2014 relating to an incident in January of that year when he released his police dog, K-9 Officer Gunner, to subdue 57-year-old Wendy Tucker, whom he had trailed from Tuckerton to Barnegat.

On Jan. 29, Cherry and another officer had answered a police call in Tuckerton from a homeowner who said Tucker was unwelcome and asked police to remove her. The officers learned her license was suspended and told her not to drive, but to take the bus home to Barnegat. Soon after, Cherry said he saw Tucker driving on Route 9 and followed her while trying to get her to pull over. She drove to Barnegat, where two Barnegat officers and Cherry waited for her to finally park her car in the Barnegat police station lot and then attempted to arrest her.

After instructing her to get out of the car, a Barnegat officer pulled Tucker from her parked car and Cherry released Gunner; the dog proceeded to bite the back of her coat as she lay on the ground. The Barnegat officer tried for many minutes to handcuff both her arms behind her back.

The Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office alleged that Cherry committed aggravated assault (later reduced to misconduct) when he released  Gunner on Tucker after she had already been apprehended and was under the control of two Barnegat police officers.

But after viewing the police dash cam footage and listening to testimony, Gizinski ruled the state had not proved Cherry guilty of misconduct beyond a reasonable doubt. She said the Barnegat officers did not have Tucker under control when Cherry approached and released Gunner.

Tucker was initially charged with driving with a suspended license and third degree eluding. The eluding charge was dismissed.

Tucker has a lawsuit pending in federal court against Tuckerton borough, Cherry and Barnegat Township. —P.J.

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