A Port Authority of New York and New Jersey commissioner resigned last week following a profane tirade against two police officers who had stopped her daughter and some friends and impounded the car they were traveling in.
Caren Z. Turner’s rant, during which she cursed at the officers and flashed her Port Authority badge, was all caught on dashboard camera. Officials with the Tenafly Police Department released the footage Tuesday, along with a police report on the traffic stop, upon request by NJ Advance Media and other news organizations, NJ.com reported.
Turner, 60, appeared to try to curry favor in the video, shot over Easter weekend when two Tenafly officers pulled over Turner’s daughter and three friends on a rural Bergen County road, the news site reported. The video, which prompted Turner’s resignation after Tenafly Police Chief Robert Chamberlain sent it to the Port Authority, shows her spending nearly 10 minutes demanding information on the traffic stop, despite the driver being over 18 years old.
When the officer who handled the stop tries to end the confrontation, Turner turns vulgar.
“You may not tell me when to take my child. You may shut the (expletive) up, and not tell me when I may take my kid!” she says. “And her friends, who are Ph.D. students from MIT and Yale. You may tell me nothing.”
NJ.com reported that though Chamberlain said he felt Turner’s behavior warranted turning the video and police report over to the Port Authority, she was not charged with any crime. An investigation by the state Ethics Commission could result in up to $10,000 in fines or prosecution for disorderly conduct or criminal official misconduct, the news site reported.
Watch the entire video of Turner’s run-in with police officers below.
The Port Authority announced Turner’s resignation Monday. In a statement obtained by NJ.com, agency officials called described her conduct as “profoundly disturbing.”
The Port Authority has zero tolerance for ethics violations,” the statement said. “This is the basis of the tough, systematic integrity reforms the Port Authority has implemented over the past year. Immediately upon learning of allegations that Commissioner Turner violated the Board's newly-enacted Code of Ethics, an Inspector General investigation was begun.”
Turner resigned upon learning of the investigation, the statement said.
Turner, who was appointed to her position last year by then-Gov. Chris Christie, chaired the Port Authority’s ethics committee. She is chief executive of Washington, D.C.-based Turner Government and Public Affairs, according to The Washington Post.
The lobbying firm’s website had been taken down as of Friday. She had also removed her social media profiles.
In a statement issued through her lawyer, Turner denied wrongdoing.
“At no point did I violate the Port Authority’s Code of Ethics or ask for special treatment for anyone involved, nor did I suggest, in any way, that I would use my position at the Port Authority to affect the outcome of the violations issued to the driver,” Turner said in the statement.
She said she regretted her “tone toward the police officers.” She also encouraged the Tenafly Police Department to re-evaluate its de-escalation policies so “incidents like this do not recur,” the Post reported.
The patrol officers appear to remain calm throughout the hourlong video that depicts the events of March 31 from the start of the traffic stop through Turner’s angry reaction to it. The officers, who have been identified as Officer Matthew Savitsky and Officer Tom Casper, initially pulled the male driver over that afternoon for two minor reasons, one of which was because the front side windows of the vehicle were tinted, which is against the law in New Jersey.
Savitsky is heard in the video telling the front-seat passenger, who is the usual driver of the car, that the other second reason they were pulled over was because the car’s Nevada license plate was partially obscured by the silver bracket holding the tag in place.
“I actually could barely tell what state the license plate is from,” Savitsky says.
When the officer asks the front seat passenger, who let her boyfriend drive the car, for her license and registration, she is unable to show proof of registration or an insurance card for the car, which she says belongs to her parents.
A computer check finds that the registration for the car had long since expired.
“So this is the situation,” Savitsky tells the male driver, who he asks to step out of the car. “This car’s been unregistered for two years. And you’re driving it.”
“Are you kidding me?” the young man says.
Savitsky and Casper write the driver tickets for an unclear plate, a failure to produce proof of insurance and driving an unregistered motor vehicle. The officers also order the car impounded.
That is when Turner’s daughter, who was riding in the back seat when the car was stopped, calls her mother to the scene to pick them up.
The video shows Turner walk up to the officers and introduce herself. She tells them she is there not only as a ride for the stranded driver and passengers, but as a “concerned citizen and friend of the (Tenafly) mayor.”
She tells the officers that she takes full responsibility for the people who were in the car and asks the officer in charge why they were pulled over.
“The driver has all of the information,” Savitsky says.
“No, no, no, no, no, I need to know,” Turner says.
“No, you don’t need to know. You were not involved here. You are picking them up,” Savitsky responds.
Turner says that she is “very involved” and asks her daughter and the others to give her some space to talk to the officers. She hands them her identification and business card.
She also flashes her Port Authority badge.
“That is my ID and that is my business card. I am the commissioner of the Port Authority, and I’m heading up over 4,000 police officers, OK? So, if there’s a problem, I think I have --,” she says.
“There’s no problem,” Savitsky says.
“Well, I think there is a problem,” Turner says.
The officer, whose partner remains quiet through most of the confrontation, attempts to explain to her that it was an unregistered vehicle, and Turner demands to know all the reasons why her daughter and her friends were pulled over.
“Miss,” Savitsky begins.
“No, don’t call me ‘Miss,’” Turner says angrily. “I’m ‘Commissioner.’ Thank you.”
“Commissioner, all due respect, the driver will tell you,” Savitsky says.
Turner continues to demand that the officer tell her why the car was being impounded.
“Miss, this does not involve you 1 percent,” he says.
“Yes, it does,” she responds. “It does. It does. Because I am picking them up and I am offering to take responsibility for them, and you can’t even tell me the charges? I am also an attorney.”
Turner continues to demand that the officers, who are beginning to sound frustrated, tell her what the charges are. She claims that she is impacted by the charges because she is taking the driver, her daughter and the other two passengers home with her.
Savitsky tells Turner that he does not appreciate her approach to the situation, or her demeanor. He tells her if she wants to know what the traffic stop was about, she can go to the police department on Monday and get a copy of his report.
“You have no right to know what’s going on,” Savitsky tells her.
“No, I do,” Turner says.
Turner continues to demand information, telling Savitsky she will go to the Tenafly police chief, who she claims as a personal acquaintance.
The officer tells her repeatedly to step back because he is backed up against the patrol car and she keeps edging closer to him.
“I can’t move back any farther and you keep moving closer to me,” Savitsky says. “Can you take a step back?”
The officer again tells Turner he is under no legal obligation to tell her why the driver was pulled over. She then appears to threaten the officer.
“And I’m under no legal obligations to tell you what I will be doing, but I will,” Turner says.
Turner then tells the officers she was there for their graduation from the police academy, which she says was “not that long ago.”
“What graduation? What are you talking about?” Savitsky asks, sounding perplexed.
Turner then sarcastically thanks Savitsky for his help and tells him she hopes he has a nice holiday weekend.
“Because you’ve just ruined it for a lot of people,” she says. “Without even the decency --.”
“I didn’t ruin anything. I’m just doing my job,” the officer says. “I would just hope, with you being a commissioner, that you would understand the job police officers have to do.”
The situation continues to escalate, with Turner telling the officers she is “very disappointed in the way the two of (them) are acting.” Ultimately, Savitsky tells her that he thinks they should all get off the side of the road.
“For safety reasons -- this is a high-speed road -- I think we should all get off of the road,” he says. “It’s a little dangerous with us being out here as long as we were anyway.”
Turner thanks Savitsky for his concern for her safety. She then accuses him of being unable to put a sentence together.
“That’s pathetic, and you are a disappointment,” she says, before turning to Casper and accusing him of following his partner’s lead.
“So you are also a disappointment,” she says.
A few moments later, she curses at the officers and walks off, but before leaving, she again threatens that she is “not so nice” and, after repeating the officers’ last names back to them to show she will remember them, she reiterates that she will talk to the mayor and police chief about them.
Savitsky makes it easier for her.
“Badge No. 540,” he says. “Just to make sure there are no discrepancies. Matt is the first name.”
“I’ve got all your information, sweetheart,” she says as the video ends.
Residents and public officials in New Jersey and beyond have praised Savitsky’s and Casper’s handling of the situation. New Jersey state Sen. Vin Gopal called Turner’s behavior toward the officers “inexcusable and appalling” and said the only thing more disturbing was her lack of remorse.
“Ms. Turner has issued excuses in the place of the sincere and humble apology these fine officers more than deserve,” Gopal wrote on Facebook. “No one is above the law and no one deserves special favors or treatment. I thank officers Matthew Savitsky and Tom Casper for remaining calm and professional throughout this incident.”
Chamberlain wrote on the department’s Facebook page that he is “extremely proud” of his officers, about whom he said he has received hundreds of phone calls and emails in which people commented on their professionalism, patience and restraint.
“Your kind words of encouragement and praise are truly appreciated,” the chief wrote. “We promise that as we move forward, we will continue to incorporate technology, progressive training methods, sound policies & procedures, and individual accountability in an attempt to maintain the highest standards of professionalism while serving the residents of Tenafly.”
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