An incident that took place on July 5, 2016 has finally come to a head and the police chief in Maplewood, NJ has been suspended over it. Following a 4th of July celebration, several Black teens were confronted by township police officers and were eventually punched, kicked, and pepper sprayed. In a video that was recently released, the confrontation was captured on a police car’s dash-cam.
The incident began after a fight between several teenagers broke out following the town’s annual fireworks show last year. Eventually, four teens were arrested for taking part in the altercation.
At the time of the incident, residents in the area who witnessed the altercation, lodged complaints about what they saw. They accused the police of racially profiling the Black youths allegedly involved in the fights, and forcibly attempting to move the crowd into neighboring Irvington. Complaints lodged also said the police wrongfully used pepper spray to subdue the crowd.
After details started making its way into the media, the township announced they had disciplined six police officers, while saying the case is still under investigation.
In a statement, Maplewood Police Captain Dawn Williams said one officer was suspended for 20 days and another five “received formal discipline.” Williams said all of the officers violated department rules and regulations. The suspended officer also violated the PD’s use of force policy, she said. Williams further stated, all officers were also “given additional training to help prevent a recurrence of the violations.”
The Essex County Prosecutor’s Office had investigated the allegations last year, but sent the investigation back to the Maplewood Police Department, citing insufficient evidence.
Following public outcry, the township council last month ordered all video and audio recordings of the incident to be released. The council was “frustrated” by the length of the prosecutor’s office investigation. So the mayor, Vic DeLuca, said the governing body “felt the release of the audio and video tapes could wait no longer, even though the Maplewood Police have not closed the internal investigation.”
The South Orange-Maplewood Black Parents Workshop community group issued a call for state oversight of the police department, and the firing of its chief. “Black children were pushed toward the Irvington border with the plan of sealing them out of their own town,” the group said in a statement. “The teens were not unruly…but were still corralled and pushed out of the city by our police.”
At a recent township council meeting, the township committee unanimously voted to demand the resignation of Police Chief Robert J. Cimino. The committee passed a no-confidence vote against Cimino and placed him on paid administrative leave for 60 calendar days. In addition, Capt. Joshua J. Cummis was placed on paid administrative leave for 30 calendar days.
The town has since hired a law enforcement consulting firm to examine what happened on the night of July 5, 2016, and how the department responded to it. The consultants interviewed members of the police department and also plan to talk with residents as well. The township’s mayor said the township committee was appalled by the use of excessive force and the decisions made by police leadership on the night of the incident. DeLuca said, “Tonight, the excuses stop. Tonight, the delays stop.”
Committee member Frank McGehee called the incident sickening and unacceptable. He said the group of Black youths were “herded like cattle” as police attempted to move them to Irvington. McGehee went on to further say, “There is no greater message than, ‘you are not welcome here,’ than being driven out of your hometown simply because of the color of your skin. When did being Black become a qualifying factor regarding residency in Maplewood?”