MAPLEWOOD, NJ - The events of July 5, 2016, when Maplewood Police engaged in several altercations with unruly teens following the fireworks display that night, included police use of pepper spray, “closed fist” punches on some suspects refusing arrest, and several claims of assault on cops seeking to bring order, according to police reports released this week.
The police reports, which had been withheld from public view for more than a year, were made public this week after the Maplewood Township Committee voted, 5-0, on July 18 for their release.
The documents also included audio recordings of police radio calls that night that indicated several different unruly crowds that clashed with police after the fireworks ended at about 9:43 p.m.
Maplewood police later reported that four juveniles were arrested on charges including disorderly conduct, obstruction of the administration of law, resisting arrest, and assault of a police officer.
The report release comes after a year of complaints from several residents that police abused some teens during the incidents, which ended with several arrests and claims of excessive force.
The July 4, 2016, fireworks were delayed a day due to rain. But after they were held on July 5, many youths gathered at the corner near Columbia High School and the 7-Eleven, sparking police efforts to disperse the crowd.
The police documents indicate that the first report of a fight occurred at 10 p.m. near Valley Street and Jefferson Avenue as police were moving crowds away from Memorial Park, where the fireworks were held.
Soon after, the report indicates “large crowds at Valley and Parker Avenue” and a fight at the 7-Eleven/Shell station at that corner, which eventually prompted the 7-Eleven to close.
At about 10:30 p.m. other crowds were reportedly being disruptive and gathering at Elmwood Avenue and the Irvington city line, with at least two fights noted. A second 7-Eleven, at Irvington Avenue and Parker Avenue, was closed at 10:20 p.m. due to an unruly crowd, the report states.
One officer’s report stated: “as these officers approached the area of Valley and Lincoln approximately 150 to 200 of what mostly appeared to be teenagers or young people began running north on Valley,” later adding, “we observed a large group of teens and young adults…actively engaged in a physical altercation.”
He wrote that officers “started yelling commands for the group to disperse to which some subjects complied, but others did not.
“As officers were attempting to separate two females who were engaged in a physical altercation pulling each other’s hair and swinging with closed fists a group of 10 to 15 people began to rush at officers,” the report added. “…this officer began yelling multiple orders for the group to back up, but they did not comply.”
The patrolmen wrote that “this officer feeling my safety and the safety of other officers were in danger when the group came within 10 feet of officers deployed OC spray (pepper spray) in a horizontal sweeping motion on the group that was failing to obey my commands.”
That led to the end of the disruption, the report states.
A separate police report indicated two females apparently affected by the pepper spray sought medical attention soon after.
But elsewhere, other incidents occurred that included attacks on officers and physical altercations by police to subdue at least two suspects, the reports said.
A report of a crowd at Elmwood Avenue and Meadowbrook Place at 10:49 p.m. included a description of one male youth who spit on an officer and then “pull(ed) away and resist(ed)” arrest when police ordered him into custody.
The report later stated an officer was “forced to place (the subject) in a compliance hold” as the suspect “was kicking both of his legs” He was arrested.
A later incident at Elmwood Avenue and Orchard Street at 11:47 p.m. is described as involving a “very large, disorderly crowd” that included “multiple subjects” that “became extremely irate and refused to comply with any orders to get out of the roadway. During that time one female in particular was enticing the crowd not to comply with officers’ orders.”
The police report added that the female was guided to the sidewalk and another female grabbed the officer’s hand and attempted to pull him away from the female.
When one suspect “attempted to overtake an officer,” another officer stated that he “struck (the suspect) approximately three times in the abdomen/side of his body with a closed fist, which I was then able to get him on his stomach and place his hands behind his back and into handcuffs,” according to the police report.
It noted that later at police headquarters, the suspect “continued to be disorderly and combative by shouting profanities and challenging (the officer) and others.” He also “stood up out of anger and spit on the floor in the direction” of several officers.
Another officer in the same incident also reported using a “closed-fist” on a suspect, as well as applying a “pressure point technique behind his ear in order to gain control of his arms and subdue him.”
Early the next morning, at about 2 a.m. on July 6, another male youth was arrested after he jumped on an officer’s back as the officer was attempting to arrest a second youth for spitting at him, reports said. Both were taken into custody.
The police reports are being made public just weeks after Maplewood Township hired an outside investigative firm to review the incidents.
Last month the Maplewood Township Committee voted, 5-0, on a resolution that retained HillardHeintz of Chicago at a rate of $29,000 to review the incident and policies related to it. The agreement also includes up to $5,850 in expenses for a total of $34,850. No deadline for the review to be completed has been set.
Maplewood Mayor Vic Deluca at the time referred to it as an "independent assessment" of the incident, "looking at what happened, what policies there were in place at the time, what polices were adhered to, what policies were not adhered to and what we could do better. What we could do so that his would not occur again."
On Aug. 30, 2016, Maplewood Police Chief Robert Cimino announced that an internal investigation had been launched into claims that police had acted improperly, but that has yet to be released.
In September 2016, it was revealed that the Essex County Prosecutor's Office had launched its own investigation into police conduct. That probe ended in April, according to Maplewood Township Administrator Joseph Manning, who cited a letter from the prosecutor's office that said, in part, "there is insufficient credible evidence to warrant a prosecution in this matter."
But it failed to exonerate the officers, stating only that the investigation "failed to disclose sufficient evidence to clearly prove or disprove the allegation."