Maplewood Schools / Kids South Orange

UPDATED: Community Member Says South Orange-Maplewood School Board Member Invoked ‘Civic Privilege’ in Traffic Stop

A member of the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education is under fire for her actions when she was pulled over for speeding in South Orange on April 27.

According to Walter Fields of the Black Parents Workshop, BOE member Stephanie Lawson-Muhammad “attempted to exercise her civic privilege during a routine traffic stop.”

As seen in the video, Lawson-Muhammad identifies herself to the police officer as a member of the Board of Education. Later, she mentions South Orange Village President Sheena Collum by first name and refers to the South Orange police chief as a “skinhead.”

(Read Lawson-Muhammad’s apology here.)

In a letter to Board of Education President Elizabeth Baker, Fields states that Lawson-Muhammad “must issue a public apology to this officer.” He also calls for Lawson-Muhammad’s resignation as well as Baker’s if she withheld a letter from the South Orange Village Trustees regarding the incident from other Board members and the public. Fields writes, “The officer should be commended for his professionalism, demeanor and the respect he showed a citizen who immediately attempted to use her position to intimidate him. There are real incidents of police misconduct. This was not one of them.”

Village Green submitted an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request to the South Orange Village Clerk today for a copy of the letter that Mr. Fields says that the Village Trustees sent to Baker on our about May 7.

Janet Bamford of the NJ School Boards Association, in response to a request for information from Village Green, wrote that “Board of education members in New Jersey are required to abide by a code of ethics. The Code of Ethics for School Board Members, part of the New Jersey School Ethics Act, can be accessed at the following link:”

Bamford also explained, “The New Jersey School Ethics Commission is the public body responsible for interpreting and recommending enforcement of the New Jersey School Ethics Act.” Village Green has contacted the Commission and will report the reply here when it is received.

Village Green has also reached out to the South Orange-Maplewood School District, Board of Education President Elizabeth Baker, Sheena Collum, South Orange Police Chief Kyle Kroll and Lawson-Muhammad for comment (updated: Read Lawson-Muhammad and Baker’s replies here).

Fields said that he “received an anonymous text on Sunday evening en route from Pittsburgh alerting me to the incident.” Fields then wrote a letter to Board of Education President Elizabeth Baker on May 14 and planned to file an Open Public Records Act request for the dashcam footage; however,  he reported, “That afternoon I received the flash drive in an unmarked package. I reviewed it Tuesday and this morning I wrote the second letter.”

See Walter Fields’ letter to Board of Education President Elizabeth Baker below:

Download (PDF, 453KB)

Download (PDF, 755KB)

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