The Deptford police officer under investigation for fatally shooting a suspected shoplifter who allegedly tried to run him over had been accused of roughing up two women during previous encounters, with one reaching a $20,000 settlement last year in a lawsuit against the veteran officer.
In one case, a 70-year-old driver said Sgt. Kevin A. Clements slammed her to the ground after he stopped her in August 2015 for allegedly making an illegal lane change. Another woman said she suffered a broken nose when Clements punched her in the face while he was attempting to disperse a rowdy crowd at a Deptford bar this year on St. Patrick’s Day.
Clements is now the focus of an investigation by the Gloucester County Prosecutor’s Office into the first police-involved fatal shooting in Deptford. The probe will review whether lethal force was justified when Clements shot LaShanda Anderson, 36, of Philadelphia, while she was attempting to flee the Deptford Crossings strip mall on June 9. Anderson died at the scene.
Clements, 41, has been lauded by his department as an outstanding law enforcement officer who grew up in the community and volunteers as a youth coach and as a role model for a police program that encourages youngsters to stay in school and avoid drugs.
The 19-year veteran has been on paid administrative leave since the shooting, which made national headlines. Clements has not responded to numerous phone messages, emails, and a letter left at his home on a quiet street in Wenonah.
Deptford Police Chief William Hanstein has not responded to interview requests and phone messages.
Jason Neely, president of Gloucester County PBA Local 122 in Pitman, also has declined interview requests.
Court and police records show two incidents in which Clements was accused of using excessive force.
Brittany Starzi, 30, of Deptford, said in an interview that Clements knocked her out with a single blow during an altercation at Nipper’s Pub in Deptford this March. Clements was working on St. Patrick’s Day on a special detail at the bar, which expected a busier-than-usual night.
Starzi said the bar was overflowing with revelers around 2 a.m. March 18 when police began ordering patrons to leave, an hour before closing time.
“It happened so quickly. I turned around and he punched me. I landed on concrete on my head and back,” she said in an interview. “I wasn’t doing anything and everyone saw that officer beat me to the ground.”
Clements, in his police report, said Starzi appeared very intoxicated, ignored orders to leave, and resisted his attempts to escort her out. She reached forward and “struck” his chin with her fingers, he said.
“I do not know if Starzi’s intention was to slap, push, scratch or punch me,” he wrote, adding that his head recoiled from the contact. “I reacted to Starzi’s actions by immediately punching her one time on the left side of her cheek with a closed fist.”
“I never touched him,” said Starzi. She was charged with resisting arrest, rioting, failure to disperse, disorderly conduct, and aggravated assault on a police officer for scratching Clements in the face. Starzi pleaded not guilty and has applied for a pre-trial intervention program that would allow the charges to be dropped after six months if she keeps a clean record.
The day after the incident, Starzi filed a complaint against Clements with Internal Affairs. Starzi, who is 5-foot-2 and weighs 140 pounds, said she suffered a concussion, a broken nose, and a deviated septum, which required surgery. The mother of two acknowledged having several drinks that night but said she was not intoxicated.
Clements, who weighs 175 pounds, said he sustained bruised ribs and swollen hands from the encounter with Starzi and another reveler. He contends that Starzi was injured when she was pushed to the ground by the crowd of people pressing to leave the bar.
A police Internal Affairs investigation concluded that Clement’s use of force was justified, said her lawyer, Charles Nugent. He said he disagreed with that finding.
“All I’ll say is that this officer is clearly a liability,” Nugent said.
In June 2017, Deptford settled a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by Bonita Miranda, of Clayton, who alleged that she was roughed up by Clements during a stop on Clements Bridge Road on Aug. 13, 2015, for suspected alcohol use. Miranda, a diabetic, doesn’t drink alcoholic beverages, the suit said. After pulling her over, Clements conducted field sobriety tests, the suit said.
According to the lawsuit, Miranda was ordered “to bend over like she was diving into a pool of water.” Clements then “slammed” her on the ground onto rocks and “continued to rough up” Miranda and handcuffed her, the suit said.
During the encounter, Miranda’s watch and bracelet were broken, the lawsuit said. She was taken by ambulance to Inspira Medical Center in Woodbury, where she was treated for a cut on her knee and extreme emotional anxiety, her lawyer said in court documents.
At the hospital, a friend who was a passenger in Miranda’s vehicle demanded that Miranda receive a blood alcohol test to use as evidence that she was not driving while impaired, according to the lawsuit. The results showed that she didn’t have any alcohol in her system at the time, the suit said.
Responding to Miranda’s allegations in court documents, Clements denied any wrongdoing and said he had probable cause to arrest her. Clements said Miranda resisted when he tried to handcuff her and “actually was put down in order for him to cuff her, not thrown to the ground,” his lawyer wrote in a response to allegations in the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Camden.
“At no time was the plaintiff the subject of excessive force nor were her constitutional/civil rights violated,” he said.
Miranda’s lawyer, William Stopper, declined to comment. Miranda, now 73, of Elmer, could not be reached for comment. A son said she had been recently hospitalized.
Haddonfield attorney Robert A. Baxter, who handled the settlement with Miranda for the township’s insurance carrier, declined comment. Deptford solicitor Doug Long also declined comment on the settlement or Starzi’s more recent allegations against Clements.
Clements joined the Deptford police department in 1999. He began his career in 1998 as a Class I summer officer in Avalon. He joined the Camden County Sheriff’s Department in November 1998 and resigned two months later to join the Deptford force. He is now assigned to the 12-member D.A.R.E unit, the drug abuse resistance program that works with youngsters in schools, according to the department’s website. He has a base salary of $106,664, according to payroll records.
In 2017, the Deptford police department recognized Clements in its “Making a Difference” profile, which honors officers for their professional and personal achievements in the community. He received an honorable mention for the department’s Officer of the Year in 2015.
Clements grew up in the township’s Oak Valley section and graduated from Deptford High School in 1995. While home from college on a break, he became a soccer coach for the Oak Valley Youth Association, working with 4- to 6-year-olds.
“I was only 18 at the time but decided to give it a try. It was honestly one of the best decisions I ever made,” Clements said in the profile.
Last year, Clements used force twice during disorderly person arrests, according to reports obtained by the Inquirer and Daily News under the state’s Open Public Records Act. In one instance, Clements said he used a compliance hold and his hands and/or fists to arrest a 23-year-old male suspect who was resisting. In the other, Clements said he used the same measures to take into custody a 27-year-old woman after she threatened another officer.
In the use-of-force report Clements filed seven days after the strip-mall shooting, he checked a box indicating that he intentionally discharged his weapon because Anderson attacked or threatened the officer or another with a vehicle. He fired his weapon three times, striking her twice, the report said.
The report said Anderson would have faced a charge of attempted homicide for nearly plowing into the officers, but it provided few other details about the shooting.
Two eyewitnesses have disputed the police account that Anderson tried to run over officers. Stanley King, an attorney representing Anderson’s family, said he did not believe the use of lethal force was justified. Last week, he filed a notice of intent to take legal action over her death.
In policing, physical — or even lethal — force may be necessary as a last resort after attempts to de-escalate an encounter fail, said Brian Klimakowski, spokesman for the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police. Officers are trained to make every effort to avoid “going hand-to-hand,” he said.
“At the end of the day, it all comes down to what’s reasonable,” said Klimakowski, who served as police chief in Manchester Township in Ocean County for 28 years. “A lot of times, you’re making split-second decisions.”