A New Jersey man has been missing for nine months and was last seen shortly after Paterson police arrested him. Two police officers involved in the case have now been suspended.
So what happened to Felix de Jesus? His family say they still need answers about their missing loved one.
De Jesus’ family admits he was drinking on February 2, the night he was arrested outside a bodega on the Paterson-Haledon border. He was handcuffed and placed in a squad car by inexperienced Paterson cops Jacob Feliciano and Dodi Zorrilla – although the woman who complained that de Jesus molested her did not press charges.
The Paterson Police Department released new bodycam video Friday showing the woman speaking to officers during the incident. On the recording, one of the officers can be heard telling the woman to “put something down that says he touched you or something.”
But the woman refused, saying she wasn’t interested in going through all the paperwork required. She said she just wanted to go back to her home and declined to file a police report.
De Jesus, who lived in Paterson but was staying with his mother in Haledon, was placed in the back seat of the squad car complaining of a broken hand. What happened next, his family says, is a mystery.
“They said they dropped him off somewhere — they didn’t provide any evidence that they dropped him off,” said Eric de Jesus, his brother.
The family said the only evidence they have that de Jesus was recorded by police is body camera video, which was only obtained when a newspaper filed a request for open public records. The family said they would not have had it if it weren’t for the owner of the store where their missing relative was before he was handcuffed.
“We were putting out flyers in stores to find my brother and saw a guy come out of the store and tell us [de Jesus] was arrested by Paterson Police. He saw them when they took him away,” the brother said.
It took four months for the family to get the bodycam video, and they say it still doesn’t tell the whole story.
“Even they turned off their cameras, so we don’t know anything now. You have not made a report to the police. “Ten days later the family found out where Felix was, but we already had evidence he was in the hands of the Paterson Police Department,” said Eric de Jesus. “We called every hospital, morgue, everywhere — and they say, that they never had Felix… The Paterson police should know what happened to him. They were the last ones to have him.”
In the months since his disappearance, de Jesus’ family have maintained a quiet but steady protest. On Friday, on the sidelines of a disjointed press conference outside the Passaic County Courthouse, they were there with Paterson’s mayor and other elected officials — including longtime local Congressman Bill Pascrell, the only one who stopped to speak to the family and his help agreed.
“I’ll keep going…I know who to talk to, always had a good relationship with the Paterson Police Department. We’re being honest with each other and I think that’s a good start,” Rep. Pascrell said.
The Paterson Police Director did not respond to calls or emails to comment on the two officers, who were suspended for 90 days without pay Monday following an internal investigation. The review found that they violated several department regulations, including dereliction of duty, violating body camera rules, carrying citizens, and preparing and filing reports.
Mayor Andre Sayegh issued a statement that said, in part, “While the review found that the officers concerned were not responsible for Mr de Jesus’ apparent disappearance, the city found that the officers were in breach of multiple procedural and disciplinary actions pursued against them.”
Meanwhile, an agonizing wait continues for the family.
“He lost Father’s Day … he had two kids and we miss him,” said Eric de Jesus through tears. “I miss my brother. He worked, he does everything. He’s like my father.”
The family said the disciplinary action taken against the two officers did not go far enough. They hired a lawyer and a private investigator.
The lawyers for the two disciplined officers did not respond to requests for comment. All questions regarding the investigation are being referred to the Passaic County Attorney’s Office, which has also not responded to requests for comment.