South Orange Police Sgt. Steven Davenport made one of eight requests for the South Orange police dashcam video of a traffic stop involving South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education member Stephanie Lawson-Muhammad on April 27, 2018.
In the video, Lawson-Muhammad identifies herself to the police officer as a member of the Board of Education, mentions South Orange Village President Sheena Collum by first name and refers to the South Orange police chief as a “skinhead.” Lawson-Muhammad has since apologized for her behavior and asked that the community not be divided by the resulting controversy.
Davenport wrote out a request for the video on May 15; the request was marked as “received” by the Village Clerk’s office on May 18. Davenport received the video from the Township Clerk’s office via email on May 22, six days after it became public.
When asked to comment about whether he made the request as a private citizen or as a member of the SOPD, Davenport responded as follows:
There are 3 reasons I demanded the video:
1. As a taxpayer in the Village of South Orange
2. As the Vice President of the Superior Officers Association
3. The most important- my vested interest as my wife is a district employee
After reviewing the video I found Ms Lawson-Muhammad’s behavior to be disrespectful and hateful towards law enforcement. I made the video available to my family, colleagues and close friends.
Davenport also forwarded the following letter from his wife, South Orange-Maplewood School District teacher Maureen Davenport, to Superintendent of Schools Dr. Thomas Ficarra, with her permission to publish:
I am writing to you in regards to the recent encounter between a South Orange Police Officer and a member of the SOMSD School Board. Let me start with my background in this district: I am a lifelong resident of South Orange. I am a graduate of Columbia High School, as are my husband and children. I currently am an employee of the District at Seth Boyden where I teach kindergarten and have been in this position for 10 years. I have strong ties to both towns as well as the School District. I am a dedicated professional and I enjoy both working and living within the diverse community where I had the opportunity to learn and grow. My husband is Detective Sergeant Steven Davenport, an employee of the South Orange Police Department. Additionally, I have known Chief Kyle Kroll for my entire life as he was my childhood neighbor.
I am horrified and saddened by the actions and comments made by Ms Lawson-Muhammad on April 27, 2018. Her interaction with Officer Horst is the opposite of what we teach our children. Her blatant disregard for the law and her statement that she believes she deserves entitlement are a direct contradiction to the responsibilities of the SOMSD Board of Education members who are tasked “for developing policy to ensure the proper care, management and control of District affairs.” Is it possible or fair for an individual who uses disparaging terms towards a public official to have any say in my or my colleagues employment? Why should Ms Lawson-Muhammad be free to treat town employees with disrespect, the very value I instill in my kindergarten class on a daily basis? Is it reasonable that she is tasked in making decisions regarding student discipline when she herself showed a lack in self-restraint?
As a member of the Board of Education, Ms. Lawson-Muhammad’s decisions, recommendations and actions should benefit the students and staff of our communities. Her vulgar and biased reaction to being lawfully stopped for a traffic violation begs for immediate dismissal from the Board. Thank you for attention to this matter.