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PATERSON, N.J. (PIX11) — When 41-year-old Felix de Jesus went missing on a Friday night, Feb. 2, his family didn’t know until a week later that he’d been briefly handcuffed by two Paterson police officers at a Union Avenue bodega.

“The bodega owner told my niece,” Giovanni de Jesus, the missing man’s brother, told PIX11 News. He’s been spearheading the search for Felix, who had been drinking that night.  

Felix de Jesus was staying in nearby Haledon with his mother, because he was recovering from hip replacement surgery. But his family learned he had been stopping at local Paterson delis that Friday night to buy snacks, hoping to use his EBT card.

Giovanni de Jesus insisted his brother had not harassed a female customer in the store at 499 Union Avenue and said he’d spoken to two witnesses.

“They saw the officers arresting my brother,” Giovanni de Jesus told PIX11 News Friday. “And they asked the woman if she wants to press any charges against my brother, and she said, “no.'”

Police body cam footage does exist of the encounter, but it hasn’t been released by the corporation counsel’s office at City Hall — an active Internal Affairs investigation is going on at the Paterson Police Department.

The missing man’s family has learned the two police officers drove Felix de Jesus to a park area behind Kennedy High School, a place near Preakness Avenue and Front Street, where people are known to hang out and light bonfires by the banks of the Passaic River. Felix de Jesus reportedly asked to be dropped off there after he was taken out of handcuffs.

“This is something we investigated, we had to do it ourselves,” said Eric de Jesus, Felix’s youngest brother.

The family reported Felix de Jesus missing at the Haledon Police Department, since he was living in that community with his mother. Haledon police have worked with the Passaic County Sheriff’s Office and Paterson police to use dogs, sonar scans and drones to search along the Passaic River for signs of Felix de Jesus.

Giovanni de Jesus has also used a small boat, with his brother Eric on a jet ski, doing their own search of the river.

“We’ve been up and down the river,” Giovanni de Jesus said. “Nothing, absolutely nothing. Not even his phone, his clothes, his EBT card. He had on a white shirt, black pants and black boots.”

Felix de Jesus also has a distinguishing tattoo across his chest: a large image of the Puerto Rican flag.

Eric de Jesus grew emotional as he spoke about his mother waiting for her oldest child of seven to come home.

“She don’t sleep,” Eric de Jesus told PIX11 News by the river bank.

Eric said his older brother is more like a father figure, since the actual de Jesus patriarch is still in Puerto Rico. Felix de Jesus also has children of his own: a son and a daughter.

“My brother’s the oldest one, the one who showed us everything we know,” Eric de Jesus said.

Community activist Corey Lewis Teague has been showing up every Tuesday at City Council meetings with the de Jesus family, demanding transparency in the police investigation.

Council member Luis Velez of the 5th District has been at the meetings and remarked on the de Jesus case.

“Whatever his personal life is or was, it has nothing to do with the job the police have to do [or] with the information the family is asking for,” Velez said. “They’re hurting.”

Velez said he has faith in the Paterson Police Department’s probe.

One Paterson resident PIX11 News’ Mary Murphy met outside the bodega said he’d heard about the case.

“I don’t think the police had anything to do with it,” Robert Legette said. “I don’t want to think that way.  Maybe they should have taken him directly to the precinct or driven him home.”

The Paterson Police Department hasn’t offered a comment on the case, because of the Internal Affairs review. The mayor of Haledon issued his own statement on the case and investigation.

“The disappearance of Mr. de Jesus has been extremely difficult for his family,” Mayor Domenick Stampone said, “but I am thankful for the efforts of the Haledon Police Department, which has made this missing persons search a priority. We pray for the safe return of Felix to his family and friends.”

The Haledon Police asked anyone with information on the whereabouts of Felix de Jesus to contact Captain George Guzman, Jr. at (973) 790-4444 or gguzman@haledonpd.org.