Education

Lawson-Muhammad Apologizes For 'Irrational Response' To Police Altercation; School Board President Supports Her

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Stephanie Lawson-Muhammad was stopped by an officer on the morning of April 27, as she drove her child to school near the Maplewood/South Orange line along Walton Road at Maplewood Avenue. Credits: Joe Strupp - file photo from 2016
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Stephanie Lawson-Muhammad was stopped by an officer on the morning of April 27, as she drove her child to school near the Maplewood/South Orange line along Walton Road at Maplewood Avenue. Credits: TAPinto SOMA
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SOUTH ORANGE, NJ -  A day after video surfaced of her altercation with a South Orange police officer -- in which she used profanity and called the police chief “a skinhead cop” -- South Orange Maplewood School Board member Stephanie Lawson-Muhammad issued an apology in which she called her behavior “uncharacteristic” and “an irrational response” to being stopped.

“First and foremost, I want to sincerely apologize for my uncharacteristic behavior displayed in the police video on April 27th,” she said in the statement. “I had an irrational response to being stopped for a traffic violation. I allowed my emotions to overwhelm me that morning, and I fell short of the standards to which I hold myself."

She later added, “I have personally apologized to Chief Kyle Kroll who, like me, is passionate about our community. He is not the person I made him out to be,” the apology stated, in part. “He sincerely accepted my apology and agrees that we will work together to help heal our community. We have begun plans to work with community stakeholders to build stronger bonds and greater trust for the entire community.”

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The apology follows Wednesday’s disclosure, first reported by TAPinto SOMA, of Lawson-Muhammad’s reaction to having been stopped by an officer on the morning of April 27, as she drove her child to school near the Maplewood/South Orange line along Walton Road at Maplewood Avenue.

As the dashcam video of the incident showed, South Orange police stopped her for speeding and when she was approached, she became upset and sought to argue that she needed to get her child to school. She stated, “my name is Stephanie Lawson-Muhammad, I’m on the school board, I’m a community member of this town and I am sorry if I was speeding, I didn’t realize I was speeding.”

She later used profanity when the officer asked if she needed an ambulance and then complained when she was cited, in addition to speeding, for not having a valid insurance card.

When she was issued a ticket, she called Kroll “a skinhead cop” and also appeared to suggest that she would contact South Orange Village President Sheena Collum in response to the traffic stop.

Since the incident was reported and video distributed, critics have come forward to demand her resignation stating she should not be allowed to remain a member of the school board, while supporters contend she should be forgiven for experiencing a difficult, stressful incident and reacting to it emotionally.

“Like many parents, I was trying to get my children to their schools on time,” her statement continued. “When the police officer stopped me, I was upset, frustrated, and uncharacteristically out of sorts. And to my benefit, the officer did not react to my behavior. The officer kept an even tone in our interaction and performed his job well under the circumstances. I thank him for his patience.”

Lawson-Muhammed, who is in her second, three-year term on the board, is not up for re-election until November 2019. She did not indicate if this would affect any plans to run again.

School Board president Elizabeth Baker also issued a statement in which she indicated the district had reviewed the incident and the apology and would support Lawson-Muhammad remaining on the board.

See Baker's statement below:

Since I was made aware by the South Orange Village Administrator of the traffic stop incident involving my fellow Board member Stephanie Lawson-Muhammad, I have acted in consultation with the School District’s counsel to ensure adherence to all legal and ethical obligations. I also encouraged Ms. Lawson-Muhammad to personally apologize to Chief Kroll and engage in a dialogue that would repair the harms that her statements caused.  

I understand that Ms. Lawson-Muhammad and Chief Kroll have met and that Ms. Lawson-Muhammad has both personally and publicly apologized to Chief Kroll.  I want to thank Chief Kroll for his willingness to meet with Ms. Lawson-Muhammad and accept her apology.  This meeting reflects the beginning of a difficult, restorative dialogue.  Such a dialogue takes personal courage and a shared commitment to our community.  I ask the members of our towns to support Chief Kroll and Ms. Lawson-Muhammad in this process.      

Lawson-Muhammed's full statement is below:

First and foremost, I want to sincerely apologize for my uncharacteristic behavior displayed in the police video on April 27th.  I had an irrational response to being stopped for a traffic violation. I allowed my emotions to overwhelm me that morning, and I fell short of the standards to which I hold myself.

Like many parents, I was trying to get my children to their schools on time.  When the police officer stopped me, I was upset, frustrated, and uncharacteristically out of sorts.  And to my benefit, the officer did not react to my behavior. The officer kept an even tone in our interaction and performed his job well under the circumstances. I thank him for his patience.

I have personally apologized to Chief Kyle Kroll who, like me, is passionate about our community. He is not the person I made him out to be. He sincerely accepted my apology and agrees that we will work together to help heal our community. We have begun plans to work with community stakeholders to build stronger bonds and greater trust for the entire community.

Related article

South Orange Village President Issues Statement About Traffic Stop of School Board Member

Video Shows School Board Member In Altercation With Police at Traffic Stop in South Orange

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