Maplewood Police and Fire

Community Member Calls for Release of Police Audio, Video from July 5 Maplewood Fireworks Incident

A member of the Maplewood community is calling for Maplewood Township and the Maplewood Police Department to release police audio and video recordings from incidents related to the arrests of four local teens after last year’s town fireworks on July 5.

The requests for the audio and video relate to alleged incidents of racial profiling by the Maplewood Police on July 5, 2016, when a large group of mostly black teenagers was guided by police from Valley Street eastward to the Irvington border — despite protests by local teens that they were being directed away from their homes. Three South Orange teens and one Maplewood teen were arrested and charged with a variety of counts—including disorderly conduct, obstruction of the administration of law, resisting arrest, and aggravated assault on a police officer — when fights broke out near the Irvington border.

Some witnesses claimed that when the teens came to the Elmwood Avenue and Boyden Avenue area, police “instigated” the fight. Tweets and video posted from that night appear to show some of the altercation, and one girl can be heard saying, “They just pepper sprayed everyone for no reason.”

The release of the recordings has been continually delayed by ongoing investigations — first an Internal Affairs investigation by the MPD, then an investigation by the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, and now an investigation that has been outsourced to a third-party firm by the Township.

The ECPO investigation found that there was “insufficient credible evidence” to warrant prosecution of Maplewood Police Chief Robert Cimino and Capt. Joshua Cummis but referred a portion of the investigation back to Maplewood. On June 20, the Maplewood Township Committee voted 5-0 to approve a resolution to retain Illinois-based firm Hillard Heintze to complete the investigation.

While the investigation continues, some in the community have grown frustrated that audio and video recordings have not been released.

“We are very disturbed by Maplewood Township’s refusal to release the audio and video tapes from the July 5th incident last year,” wrote Walter Fields of the Black Parents Workshop in an email to Village Green on June 21. “I know the Village Green has filed an OPRA request, as has Columbia High School teacher Thomas Whitaker. I am meeting with our legal counsel this morning to explore our legal options to compel the release of the recordings. The township’s refusal flies in the face of what some police departments have done after recent incidents in the spirit of full transparency. I think it is vitally important, that after one year, the public has a right to know.”

Whitaker also filed requests for release of the recordings and also called for an independent investigation last fall. He did not respond to a Village Green email asking for comment this week.

Village Green filed an Open Public Record Act request for police reports, audio and video related to the incident last September and renewed that request this spring when the ECPO Professional Standards Bureau concluded its investigation. At that time, Township counsel told Village Green that, with an investigation in the works, no documents would be released until that investigation is complete.

A email by Village Green to Township counsel last week did not receive response.

After the vote to hire Hillard Heintze, Maplewood Mayor Victor DeLuca said that the town wants to look at “what policies were adhered to and what were not adhered to and what we could do better…so this would not occur again.”

Carolyn Maynard-Parisi supplied reporting on this story.

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