WATCH: N.J. State Troopers Arrest Philadelphia Attorney For Staying Silent

Aug 23, 2017

TRENTON — A woman arrested by two New Jersey state troopers for refusing to answer questions during a 2015 traffic stop will receive $30,000 under a settlement with the state, court records show.

Rebecca Musarra, a Philadelphia attorney, put her right to remain silent to the test after she was pulled over for allegedly speeding on Route 519 in Warren County — and ended up in a holding cell for it.

In a recent interview, Musarra said she hoped the case, which drew national attention after it became public, would become a civil liberties lesson for police and members of the public.

“Hopefully this gives average citizens a little more courage to assert their rights,” she said.

Dashboard video obtained by NJ Advance Media showed the two troopers growing increasingly frustrated over getting the silent treatment, arresting Musarra for refusing to answer questions and then, after cuffing her, informing her she had a right to remain silent.

The video showed Musarra handed over her license, registration and insurance at the start of the October 16, 2015 stop. But as Trooper Matthew Stazzone began asking her questions — including “do you know why you’re being pulled over tonight?” — Musarra stayed mum.

After several minutes, Stazzone told the woman she was “going to be placed under arrest if you don’t answer my questions.”

She then broke the silence to tell the trooper she was an attorney and did not have to answer questions. He ordered her out of her vehicle and, with the help of Trooper Demetric Gosa, placed her under arrest.

As the two troopers cuffed her and walked her toward a troop car, Musarra asked them, “Are you detaining me because I refused to speak?”

“Yeah,” Stazzone replied, according to the video. “Yeah, obstruction,” Gosa added.

The troopers placed her in the back of the car and Stazzone read Musarra the Miranda warning before taking her to the nearby State Police barracks in Washington.

Musarra was detained and questioned at the station before a supervisor told her the troopers had made a mistake and she was free to go, she claimed in the federal lawsuit.

Legal experts interviewed by NJ Advance Media said motorists should follow police orders during traffic stops, but are under no obligation to answer questions, thanks to constitutional protections against self-incrimination.

Musarra’s attorney, Kevin Costello, told NJ Advance Media she had requested a formal letter from State Police acknowledging the troopers had violated her rights. But court records show the division refused to provide it.

The agreement, reported Wednesday by NJ Civil Settlements, which provides a partial list of settlements paid by New Jersey government agencies, was reached in July but has not yet been approved by a judge.

Under the settlement, the state admits no wrongdoing.

However, Musarra said she received a different letter from the Office of Professional Standards, the division’s internal affairs unit, indicating its investigation substantiated her complaints.

Capt. Brian Polite, a State Police spokesman, said he could not comment on any correspondence between Musarra and internal investigators. He said, however, that the troopers involved “were given additional training regarding criminal arrests” after the incident.

A spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, which represented the troopers in the civil case, declined to comment.