LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY

Residents, activists condemn Maplewood PD leaders

BY Michael Hill, Correspondent |

Maplewood Police went to disperse what they called an “unresponsive” crowd of African-American males after the Independence Day fireworks last year. Recordings show they used pepper spray, shoved one person to the ground, and tackled and kicked another person. Police Chief Robert Cimino ordered his officers to send the crowd – even those who lived in Maplewood – out of town and into Irvington, which had a 10 p.m. curfew for unaccompanied minors that could have led to legal trouble that was captured via phone.

Audio Recording of Chief Cimino: “All right, we’re going to send them east.”

Audio Recording of Captain Cummis: “Notify Irvington Police they are coming down Elmwood towards their town. ”

He later instructed, Audio Recording: “Once they reach the Irvington border and enter Irvington, I want you to maintain our border on Franklin.”

The captain and police chief were not available for comment. But, residents say to garner support, Cimino showed the tapes to some supporters in town, but took more than a year to release them last week to those who had filed open records requests.

“And, what we knew all along was confirmed,” said Columbia High School teacher TJ Whitaker.

Whitaker has led the charge to expose and investigate what happened.

The Essex County Prosecutor’s Office offered this statement: “We investigated the incident and determined there was insufficient evidence for a criminal prosecution. To be clear, the video shows a youth being kicked by a police officer but the person is not handcuffed and the person did not sustain any injuries.”

It urged the police department to conduct a review, which resulted in discipline for six officers. The department would not say why or identify the officers.

“We want an end to police brutality and put an end to racial profiling,” President of People’s Organization for Progress Larry Hamm said.

“I want people to be honest about their biases and to be trained on how to overcome their biases and about their biases in order to protect everyone,” South Orange resident Rachel Shapiro Cooper said.

“It’s important to me that the police officers do not feel like they can treat certain youth different because of the color of their skin,” demonstrator Shannon Kirk said.

A 4-year-old on his father’s shoulders asked, “why are they saying he has to go?”

“If you’re actually the person who is dictating the police officers who are under your command and they’re doing this and nothing’s being done about it, you need to go,” demonstrator Sean Scott said.

The protesters went to town hall and packed committee chambers. It was the first time the town committee had met since the release of the tapes in late July. There was total condemnation of the police chief and police leadership and what happened.

“Black children were gathered on valley were herded out of town like cattle,” Maplewood Township Committee Member Frank McGehee said.

“We are appalled by the excessive force used by police officers against a group of young people. We are appalled by decisions that were made by our leadership of the police department,” Maplewood Mayor Victor DeLuca said.

“Being black is not a crime and wrong,” McGehee added.

The town committee then stunned the over-capacity audience with unanimous votes of no confidence for the police chief, demanding his immediate resignation and suspension, putting him for 60 days and Captain Cummis for 30 days. They took away their guns and badges and barred both from entering police headquarters.

The public then weighed in and one speaker said respect is a two-way street.

“I’m not condoning the police actions. I’m also not condoning the actions of spitting on them and cursing them out. Two sides are at fault,” Maplewood resident Carla Caraballo said.

“We shown respect and were shot in the back,” Chairman of Black Parents Workshop Walter Fields rebutted.

South Orange and Maplewood share a border and services, and seem to treat residents of either town as one of their own. For some, this session was like cathartically peeling a rotten onion.

“I’ve been walking home from Columbia High School with friends and I’ve been stopped by the police. My sister in town was moved up South Orange Avenue up to Newark literally telling police I live on Terrell Avenue. I can show you my ID,” said South Orange resident Justice Williams.

Maplewood has hired Chicago-based consultants to sort out what happened on July 5, but already the town has plenty of answers with residents demanding plenty more about unity, transparency and better policing.