A federal judge has dismissed a civil rights charge against a New Jersey police officer who was accused of using excessive force against a Black teenager during a January 2018 arrest.
Justin Ubry, a police officer in Ewing, N.J., was charged last year with kicking snow in the face of a 16-year-old boy as he lay face down on the ground while being handcuffed.
On Tuesday, Judge Michael A. Shipp of U.S. District Court in New Jersey dismissed the case against Officer Ubry, who had faced a misdemeanor charge that could have resulted in a year in prison and a fine of $100,000.
The Jan. 5, 2018, incident began with a report of a stolen car in the 37,000-person township about four miles northwest of Trenton, N.J.
More than a dozen police officers located the car, which had crashed, and saw the teenager running away from it and into a nearby shed, records show.
Police camera footage released by the Ewing Police Department showed officers dragging the teenager out of the shed and pushing him face down into the snow while placing him under arrest.
A former police lieutenant, Michael Delahanty of Robbinsville, N.J., was charged with using his boot to step on the back of the teenager’s head. Another officer, Matthew Przemieniecki, was also accused of kicking snow in his face.
Prosecutors have said that the teenager, who lived in the nearby town of Burlington, N.J., was not resisting arrest. Other officers had already subdued the teenager by the time the three men, all of whom are white, intervened, according to the indictment.
The judge did not dismiss the charges against Mr. Delahanty or Officer Przemieniecki, both of whom are accused of felony civil rights violations that could result in 10 years in prison and fines of $250,000.
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in New Jersey could not be immediately reached for comment.
A lawyer representing Officer Ubry, Robin Kay Lord, said the original decision to prosecute the case as a violation of the federal Civil Rights Act was an affront to people who suffer true harm at the hands of rogue law enforcement officers.
“Really? We’re kicking powdered snow that melts upon impact, and that is excessive force? Give me a break,” said Ms. Lord, a criminal defense attorney who said she rarely represented police officers.
“Hundreds of people are dying and getting seriously injured every year at the hands of police officers,” she added. “This is just an insult to all of them and an insult to the Civil Rights Act.”
Officer Ubry and Officer Przemieniecki were suspended with pay after their arrests. Officer Ubry will now likely be cleared to return to active duty, Lt. Glenn Tettemer of the Ewing Police Department said.
“The rest of the case is still ongoing, so we wouldn’t be able to comment,” he said.
Officer Przemieniecki’s lawyer did not return calls. David P. Schroth, a lawyer who represents Mr. Delahanty and also serves on the Ewing Township Council, said his client was “innocent of the charges that have been brought against him.” Before he was indicted, Mr. Delahanty, who had served 25 years with the department, retired.
When asked about the claim that Mr. Delahanty pressed his boot into the teenager’s head, Mr. Schroth said the video was inconclusive.
“We take issue with that characterization, assuming it was even his foot,” Mr. Schroth said.
The judge has not set a trial date.