Clergy members call on Coughlin to release independent prosecutor bill

BY David Cruz, Senior Correspondent |

Clergy at Monday’s news conference in Edison wanted to make it clear that they are not anti-cop. But they say police-involved shootings — at least 20 in the previous year, 13 fatal statewide — are a cause for concern, and that the number of unarmed individuals killed by police — nine fatally this year, according to The Washington Post — is a cause for even greater concern.

Unimpressed with the response to these shootings from county prosecutors, the group is calling on Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin to back a bill that would require the state attorney general to take over investigations into police-involved fatal shootings.

“This is an opportunity for New Jersey to stand on the side of justice and to stand with family members in New Jersey and around the country who have lost loved ones and still cannot determine how these loved ones have died,” said Faith in New Jersey Executive Director Archange Antoine.

A similar bill — S1036 — cleared the state Senate earlier this year. It also requires that any trial that takes place be shifted to a venue outside the county in which the shooting occurred. Less opportunity for the men and women in the county prosecutor’s office and local police forces to fall into any potential conflicts of interest that may arise from their working together so closely.

“Let’s have a thorough, transparent investigation,” said Second Presbyterian Church of Elizabeth pastor Michael Granzen. “We can clear it up. Right is right. Wrong is wrong. And then go forward as a community. But without that happening, you’re going to continue to have problems, a lack of transparency, and you’re going to have families that are grieving, not knowing what really happened.”

Greater Mount Moriah Baptist Church of Linden pastor Barry Wise called out the governor, as well.

“We’re here to address Gov. Phil Murphy as well,” he said. “Gov. Murphy was recently elected governor to the state of New Jersey, and much of his support has come from people who are disproportionately affected by many of the incidents that have brought us here today. Many of the people who have been affected supported Gov. Murphy.”

Asked at an unrelated event whether A3115 would ever see the light of day, the Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin said the issue wasn’t on his radar today.

“We’re going to do what we always do in the Assembly,” said Coughlin. “We’re going to go through a thorough and thoughtful process of evaluating each of those bills and then we’ll make a decision that’s right. Interested to hear what comes out of that meeting.”

The Attorney General’s Office says a 2015 directive already allows Grewal to act as an independent prosecutor, but supporters say they want that to be codified in the law. The Assembly bill is not yet scheduled for committee review, and despite having Deputy Speaker Benjie Wimberly as a co-sponsor, pastors here say they can’t get a meeting with the speaker, even after repeated requests. They say they’re trying to be patient but that the well is beginning to run dry.