An investigation by the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office into allegations of racial profiling by the Maplewood Police during incidents following the town fireworks on July 5, 2016 is ongoing, said a representative of the ECPO.
According to Katherine B. Carter, Public Information Officer for the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, “The matter is still pending.” When asked about the length of the investigation and if there was someone in the Prosecutor’s Office with whom Village Green could speak, Carter replied, “We do not discuss ongoing investigations.”
When asked about the investigation, Maplewood Mayor Victor DeLuca replied, “The Township also is waiting for the outcome of this investigation, which is being carried out by the Essex County Prosecutor.”
DeLuca also took the opportunity to point Village Green to Resolution 226-16 — “Supporting the Investigation by the Essex County Prosecutor” (see below) which was adopted on December 6, 2016 (and which was reported by Village Green at the time). At that same meeting in December, the Township Committee appointed Jeffrey G. Garrigan and Charles J. Sciarra to represent Maplewood Police Chief Robert Cimino and Captain Josh Cummis in the investigation. As of March 23, the town had spent $1,975.00 on their representation, according to Township Administrator Joseph Manning.
The resolution, which was proposed by DeLuca, notes that the “Maplewood Township Committee has deep concerns about the events of July 5, 2016,” and that the TC “calls upon the Essex County Prosecutor to conduct a thorough, fair, transparent and timely investigation of the alleged events regarding the Maplewood Police Department occurring on July 5, 2016.”
DeLuca and fellow Township Committee members have been at pains to express that, while they support the work of the Maplewood Police as well as ongoing training, they are concerned about the allegations of racial profiling and are prepared to take swift action once the outcome of the investigation is revealed.
At the March 21 TC meeting, the investigation was alluded to multiple times during a wide-ranging discussion by the governing body concerning recent racial incidents in the schools and the towns of Maplewood and South Orange.
“There have been incidents between the police and the public about which we cannot legally comment but it does not mean we are not thinking about them or are not concerned about them,” said Deputy Mayor Nancy Adams, during the March 21 discussion. “Even though we can not speak about them publicly, our silence is deafening. The public needs to hear from us as the governing body.”
Township Committee member Greg Lembrich also alluded to the incident in his remarks, saying, “Just because we are not talking about it because we are not permitted to, I’d like to assure the public that the TC is taking these issues very seriously and are doing whatever we can and … when the time comes to take any public action that we are committed to doing so.”
Last August, Maplewood Police Chief Robert Cimino responded to the July 5 incident with this statement: “The Maplewood Police Department considers all allegations of police misconduct to be extremely important and investigates all such allegations in accordance with the NJ Attorney Generals Internal Affairs Guidelines. On July 5, Maplewood Police officers responded to various reports of disorderly conduct, fighting, the failure of large crowds to disperse and various other violations of the law. Several arrests were made on that date. The Internal Affairs Unit of the Maplewood Police Department is currently conducting an investigation into allegations regarding police activities on the date of July 5, 2016. Upon the conclusion of the the investigation the results of the investigation will be disseminated according to the NJ Attorney Generals Internal Affairs Guidelines.”
However, a September 2016 Township Committee meeting, Columbia High School teacher T.J. Whitaker asked for an independent investigation into the incident. Whitaker taught a number of the teens involved or supervised them in student groups at CHS. At the TC meeting in September, Whitaker reported that police “herded” the teens up Parker Ave., across Suffolk, and down Midland toward Boyden Park toward Irvington, despite the fact that many of the teens were South Orange and Maplewood youth who asked to leave the group and walk home and not into Irvington. As the group attempted to head back to South Orange, Whitaker said, police pepper sprayed at least one of them and “….some had bruises derived from some type of physical contact.” (Village Green has reached out to Whitaker for follow up and will publish his response when it is received.)
At the March 21 TC meeting, Lembrich, who is Chair of the TC’s Public Safety Committee, also referred to ongoing training that the MPD was undergoing. Lembrich said that the Police Department “was under a legal obligation and does comply with 2005 NJ Attorney General directive with respect to profiling, and I’d also like to point out that all of our officers … from the Chief all the way down … are undergoing this year mandatory training on racial bias, which including implicit bias, de-escalating violent encounters and the use of force.” Lembrich noted that the town and MPD were working on implementing this training even before the state mandated it.
In the aftermath of the training, DeLuca reported, Cimino has written an article explaining it, to be published in the Maplewood Leaflet. A description of the training and certification was disseminated to the public in an email blast last week. It can be found on the Maplewood Township website at http://www.twp.maplewood.nj.us/civicalerts.aspx?AID=739.
The email blast reads in part: “Recognizing the importance and exigency of this issue, Chief Robert Cimino and Sgt. Thomas DiMaggio recently attended an instructional training course known as “Fair and Impartial Policing – Training of Trainers” in order to ensure that the Maplewood Police Department would be at the forefront of newly mandated cultural diversity training. The course was hosted and funded by the Essex County Prosecutors Office in February of 2017. Both officers are now certified instructors for the course, which will be presented to all Maplewood officers. Chief Cimino has prioritized the training so it is scheduled to begin in the first quarter of the year with the goal of having every sworn officer trained by June 1, 2017.”