EXTON, PA — Police followed an innocent man into his home, believing that he was a fleeing suspect. When the man protested being handcuffed on his own floor with strangers searched his home, an officer cussed at him and stomped on his head, causing multiple facial fractures and shattered teeth. The scene was so gruesome that a cop testified against a fellow cop. Yet instead of being fired, that stomping officer was later promoted, and now has been officially cleared of violating the victim’s civil rights.
Botched Drug Raid
The incident dates back to August 19th, 2009, when a multi-agency drug task force performed a raid on a home on East Swedesford Road in Exton, Pennsylvania. Officers from the West Whiteland Police Department joined forces with the Pennsylvania State Police “Clandestine Drug Lab Team.” The group dressed in black masks and carried long guns into the targeted residence about 9:30 p.m. to stop the inhabitants from getting high.
Things did not go smoothly for the cops, as two of the suspects were able to escape through the back door. Officers resorted to combing the neighborhood for individuals matching the suspects’ description. A few blocks a way, officers came upon a young male wearing shorts and no shirt, entering a residence on nearby Heather Lane.
That man was actually 20-year-old Zachary W. Bare, who had just returned home from swimming in Brandywine Creek. The residence he entered was his own home, where he lived with his disabled mother.
Officers suspected Mr. Bare of being involved with a plot to get high without government permission. They entered his home without permission and confronted him in his kitchen. Bare was ordered him to the floor and cuffed, so that officers could then perform a warrantless search on his house.
A Boot to the Skull
Mr. Bare was compliant but understandably upset, as armed paramilitary men had accosted him and invaded his domicile. Another officer entered the home and approached Bare wearing a mask and carrying a shotgun.
That officer was a veteran drug enforcer, later identified as Pennsylvania State Trooper Kelly Cruz. Cruz had been imprisoning people for getting high as long as Zachary Bare had been alive. The trooper, who lives in Oxford, is a “prolific and productive narcotics agent,” according to his own attorney, with multiple tours of combat experience in the Middle East.
Mr. Bare remained prone on his kitchen floor, face-down and handcuffed. When he had the audacity to talk back to Trooper Cruz in his own home, the veteran officer told him to “shut the f*** up.” Cruz then raised his jackboot above Bare’s head and stomped on his skull.
After being essentially curb-stomped, Bare’s head had been fractured in 2 places; his nose was broken; his upper teeth were driven upward into his gums and jaw. He spit a mess of blood and teeth onto the floor.
Bare was determined to have not been involved with the supposed “meth lab” a few streets away and was never charged with any crime.
The stomping incident was witnessed by West Whiteland Officer Glenn Cockerham, a 4th cop on the scene. Cockerham had the integrity to report the actions of Trooper Cruz — described as an “an unknown Pennsylvania state trooper with a black mask over his face” — and later testified against him in court. According to Officer Cockerham’s testimony:
“I observed Zachary Bare still lying face down on the kitchen floor. He was yelling something at the trooper that I could not hear clearly. The trooper was standing over him, to the left of Bare’s prone body.
The trooper said ‘shut the **** up’ then suddenly stamped downward on the back of Bare’s head with his right foot, pushing Bare’s face into the kitchen floor. I saw Bare lift his head and spit blood and teeth onto the kitchen floor.”
Officer Cockerham told investigators that the trooper’s use of force “was totally unnecessary.” While being interviewed about the event, Cockerham added: “It sounds like Zach insulted him [Cruz] in some manner and the trooper possibly lost his temper. If Zachary was kicking or pushing, I would tell you that. There was no reason for it. I really couldn’t believe he did it. It didn’t have to happen.”
Trooper Cruz never denied kicking Bare. In fact, the incident was acknowledged the day of the attack, when Cruz approached Sgt. Joseph Catov, who was leading the raid, and told him: “I’ve just got to let you know I had to go hands on with that guy.” Apparently no further explanation was necessary and he walked away.
Reluctance to Prosecute
Trooper Cruz’s explanation of the event was that he was somehow oblivious to the fact that Mr. Bare was wearing handcuffs, and felt “afraid” of him as he lie on the ground, as if Bare was trying to roll over and bite his ankles.
Despite the brutalized victim and the cop who witnessed it, local prosecutors declined to charge Cruz with assault, and the trooper’s defense lawyers convinced a grand jury not to indict him. More than 2 years had elapsed since the attack, and Cruz’s supporters claimed this was a “total vindication” of his actions.
Trooper Cruz was never fired, and actually received a promotion to the rank of Corporal in October 2012.
Later in 2012, Bare received a settlement of $125,000 from the Pennsylvania State Police. His legal team pushed on for criminal charges against Cruz, who had yet to face any consequences for his actions.
Finally after nearly 4 years of pushing for justice, prosecutors in a federal court indicted Cruz for violations of Mr. Bare’s civil rights. The charge could have resulted in 1-10 years of prison for Cruz. The case went to trial in April of 2014.
Operating as Trained
Cruz’s defense relied on emphasizing the fear he felt of Mr. Bare, who was prone on his kitchen floor, as well as undermining the witness. Cruz claimed he saw Bare rocking on his shoulder in an attempt to get up. The masked, shotgun-toting cop said that he felt threatened by it.
“That is when Cruz delivered the blow to the back of Bare’s shoulder, driving him back to the floor,” according to a generous description given by the trooper’s attorney. Cruz later testified on his own behalf, explaining the stomp:
“I reacted to his actions. I was fixated on his rage, and I did not have the opportunity to do the scans I would do, with my training and expertise.
I am taking care of me… I am afraid. At that moment I did not know he was handcuffed. I responded the way I was trained to respond. I reacted to what I saw. If I fail, I don’t come home to my family.”
The prosecution was unconvinced of Cruz’s supposed fear. Assistant U.S. Attorney Maureen McCartney told the jury: “He [Bare] wanted the name of the trooper that kicked him in the head. Trooper Cruz just walked away, with his mask over his face and his shotgun in his hand.”
After a six-day trial, the jury sided with the stomping trooper. Dozens of like-minded fellow officers cheered for joy.
“Nobody celebrates the fact someone was injured,” said Cruz’s defender Christian Hoey. “But he’s a heck of a law enforcement officer and an asset to the United States.”