Police video footage of the arrest of Robert T. Merriken Sr. recorded the Spring Lake Heights councilman telling his female passenger “I forgot about the weed” as officers continued to search his vehicle after allegedly finding a hypodermic syringe on the front seat.
Prior to his arrest, Merriken told police, “I’m a major figure in Spring Lake Heights,” according to the footage obtained by the Asbury Park Press through a public records request. You can watch the arrest in the video above.
Merriken, 68, was arrested April 4 in Neptune City on two charges of possessing drug paraphernalia, specifically the syringe, a small rubber band, cotton swabs with blood and a needle cap, records show. No drugs were found in his SUV.
For the first-term GOP councilman, the arrest marks the latest in a series of run-ins he’s had with police over the years, including arrests on prostitution charges prior to his election in 2015 that were later dismissed, records show.
In the Neptune City incident, the video shows that Merriken’s trousers were apparently unzipped and unbuckled when he was placed under arrest. The pants fell to his knees as he was escorted in handcuffs to a waiting police cruiser, the footage shows. You can see police placing Merriken under arrest at approximately the 7:15 mark in the video above.
Left alone in the police vehicle for several minutes with the woman arrested with him, Cherice M. Hernandez, 39, of Lake Como, the two talked out of the earshot of officers as the vehicle’s dashcam recorded the conversation.
“I told them all I do is help you out, and they said they were going to ask you if you were a prostitute,” Merriken is heard saying on the video.
“I am not a prostitute,” Hernandez said.
“I know you’re not,” Merriken replied.
In the footage, Hernandez repeatedly addressed Merriken as “my darling.”
Hernandez insisted in the dashcam recording that the needle didn’t belong to her. She accused police of planting it in the vehicle, according to the footage.
Then she asked Merriken, “You didn’t have the weed in your car, right?”
“I forgot about the weed,” Merriken said on the video. Their conversation in the car begins at about the 8:15 mark in the video.
Merriken’s case was set to be heard in Neptune Municipal Court Thursday but was postponed. The court could not provide the new hearing date Thursday. Neither Merriken nor his lawyer, Charles F. Shaw III of Spring Lake could be reached for comment.
Merriken faces up to six months in jail if convicted of the drug paraphernalia possession charges.
Hernandez was found guilty of possession of drug paraphernalia in Neptune Municipal Court on April 26 and assessed $964 in fines and fees, records show. Records show she was arrested again Wednesday, this time in Neptune, and charged with possession of a hypodermic syringe. She could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Following his arrest, Merriken initially said he would resign from the Borough Council, then changed his mind.
He has missed two council meetings since his arrest and has withdrawn his name from the ballot for the GOP primary for a second term. Four of Merriken’s five fellow Republicans on the six-member council have called for his resignation.
Prior prostitution arrests
The police video shows how events unfolded along a quiet residential street, beginning about 1:45 p.m., as a storm with gusty wind and pelting rain blew through the area.
Police and court records don’t specify the reason police initially questioned Merriken and Hernandez. The two say in the footage that Merriken was driving Hernandez to the home of her boss.
“I have no idea, they said he didn’t signal or something,” Hernandez can be heard on the police video telling someone on her cell phone before she was taken into custody.
One of the officers, who is not identified in the footage, tells another officer that he is familiar with both both Hernandez and Merriken.
At the time of her arrest April 4, there were five outstanding warrants on Hernandez, records show. The charges connected to the outstanding warrants include possessing a hypodermic syringe, hindering-giving false information and possession of under 50 grams of marijuana or 5 grams of hashish, records show.
In the police video, the same officer who recognized the pair said Merriken, “He’s been locked up for prostitution before. And when I come up, his belt, his thing’s undone.”
Records show Merriken was arrested on March 1, 2006 in Ocean Township, Monmouth County, on a charge of engaging in conduct with the manifest purpose of engaging in prostitution. The 37-year-old woman with Merriken while his vehicle was parked in a residential neighborhood told police Merriken had solicited her for oral sex for which she expected to get paid $40 or $50, according to the police report. Merriken pleaded guilty to loitering and paid $539 in fines and fees, records show.
More recently, Merriken was arrested by police in Neptune on Jan. 10, 2015, and charged with paying a woman $25 for oral sex in the Chesed Shel Ames Hebrew Cemetery on West Bangs Avenue, records show.
In that 2015 case, Merriken was charged with engaging in prostitution as a patron; wandering, remaining or prowling in a public place for the purposes of engaging in prostitution; trespassing; and two traffic offenses — for maintenance of lamps and safety glass violations, police records show.
Merriken pleaded not guilty to the prostitution charges, which were dismissed, as were the traffic violation charges, records show. He was found guilty of a charge titled “Prevents vice/immorality/preserves public peace and order,” and paid $1,228 in fines and court fees, court records show.
‘Nice tape of this, huh?’
Prior to his April 4 arrest in Neptune City, Merriken is shown in the footage sitting in an unmarked police SUV talking to an officer about his relationship with Hernandez and the outstanding warrants she has. In the video above the conservation begins at about 3:35 mark.
“Nice tape of this, huh?” Merriken asked one of the officers.
“I think I’m done with her,” he added, referring to Hernandez, according to the video.
“You guys dating, or what?” the officer asked.
“Nah. She was, she was a good friend of my son’s. My son passed away.”
“Sorry for that,” the officer says.
“I feel bad for her because she has nothing. I pick her up, I take her where she needs to go. I buy her food. I buy food for her kids,” Merriken said. “I helped her out.”
“Like you said, I think it’s a good time to do what you gotta do, to protect yourself, you know what I mean?” the officer said.
“I’ve got too much going on,” Merriken replied. “I’m a major figure in Spring Lake Heights, and …I thought I was doing a good thing.”
“You tried. And you can only do so much,” the officer said.
“I can’t fix somebody that’s got all that stuff going on,” Merriken said, according to the video.
Moments later, after police allegedly found a syringe on Merriken’s front seat, the video shows the councilman being handcuffed and placed under arrest.
“You know that stuff is hers, right?” Merriken said before being escorted to the back seat of the police cruiser. En route, his pants fell down, the dashcam video shows.
Once they are alone in the police cruiser, Merriken can be heard on the dashcam recording asking Hernandez, “Did he just see you in the car, you think?”
“No,” Hernandez said.
“M—– f—–, I asked him to loosen this a bit. It’s f—— cutting off my circulation,” Merriken said in the video, referring to the handcuffs he’s wearing.
“Your pants are falling down,” Hernandez pointed out.
“I know that,” Merriken said.
“Can you please try to bail me out?” Hernandez asked.
“I’ll do the best I can,” he said, according to the video. “I’ve got to get myself out.”
When an officer returned to the cruiser to drive the pair to police headquarters, Merriken said to him, “You know I’m a diabetic.”
Hernandez then added that Merriken’s ex-wife is a diabetic cancer patient who has a prescription from a doctor for injections.
The footage ends with the cruiser pulling up to police headquarters. Before getting out, Hernandez is heard telling the officer, “His pants are going to fall down.”
Staff writer Kala Kachmar contributed to this story.
By: Shannon Mullen, @MullenAPP