MAPLEWOOD, NJ - A Maplewood teen claiming he was wrongly pepper sprayed, physically abused and discriminated against by police following the 2016 fireworks has filed a federal lawsuit against the Township and former Police Chief Robert Cimino seeking damages for actions that allegedly included punching, kicking and the use of racial slurs.

Jason McDougall, now 18, was 16 years old the night of July 5, 2016, when he was among many African-American teens leaving Memorial Park after the festivities and ended up in scuffles with police.

The lawsuit filed September 8, by McDougall’s mother, Cynthia, on his behalf, alleges the teen was unfairly targeted by up to eight police officers and wrongly abused.

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The suit states, in part:

At some point … Cimino determined that he was going to direct his officers to send black children who were leaving the fireworks display in mass, out of the town of Maplewood and into neighboring Irvington. He told his subordinate officers to ‘send them east’ toward Irvington … It was the clear intent of the Maplewood Police Department to herd the youths out of Maplewood and into Irvington without regard for their right to return to their homes and without regard for their safety. At no time did officers attempt to determine if any of the children lived in Maplewood nor did they make provisions for those who did.

The lawsuit specifies that McDougall was walking along Elmwood Avenue at one point seeking to go to his home on Troy Court, but police would not let him. It claims police “told him to get on the sidewalk and walk up Elmwood Avenue” and when he “tried to explain to the police officer that he lived” in another direction, one officer allegedly said, “get your nigger ass on the sidewalk.” 

The lawsuit alleges that McDougall then went toward a commotion at Elmwood and Boyden avenues, but did not get involved.

However, the complaint claims that he was attacked by police anyway, stating:

Suddenly and without warning, another police officer ran toward (McDougall) and struck him forcefully in the chest causing him to fall backward. As he fell to the ground, he was immediately surrounded by at least eight police officers. He was kicked repeatedly by the police officers and sprayed with a chemical capsicum type spray directly in his eyes, nose, mouth and ears.

The lawsuit claims police then used other slurs and profanity, allegedly stating: ”what now bitch?” and “get the fuck out of here.” McDougall also alleges he was denied water to help sooth his eyes and mouth from the pepper spray.

As he sought to walk further up the street, the lawsuit claims, police allegedly knocked McDougall down again, slammed his face into the ground and punched him once more.

The lawsuit names as defendants Cimino, former captain Joshua Cummis and three individual police officers. It seeks unspecified damages and legal fees.

Township officials declined to comment on the suit Wednesday, noting they had not yet been served. But a clerk at the Federal District Court in Newark confirmed the 30-page suit had been filed September 8.

Robert Tarver, attorney for the McDougalls, had initially announced plans for the suit in August.

He said this week that the video and audio of that night’s events, which were released several months ago, show clear evidence of wrongdoing against his client and others.

“The unique aspect of this case is that the wrongdoing is there indisputably for everyone to see and hear,” Tarver said Wednesday by phone. “The language and behavior are based upon race.”

The McDougall lawsuit is the latest Maplewood trouble related to the July 5, 2016 police misbehavior, which has already led to the ouster of Cimino, a lawsuit from Cummis claiming wrongful termination, and a report from an independent consultant stating police acted improperly and more training for such incidents is needed.

Hillard Heintze, the Chicago firm hired as part of the Township’s response to demands by many in the community that Cimino be dismissed in the wake of improper police abuse, released its report last week that found 11 “key findings” of police response problems that night. 

Some of the strongest objections from residents involved the police “herding” many youngsters toward the Irvington city line, including many who live in Maplewood.

Video and audio of those incidents, which followed that night’s fireworks display, were made public in late July 2017 after months of demands for them to be released.

The same week, the police also announced that six officers had been disciplined for their actions that night, including one who was suspended for 20 days. It is unclear if any of them were among those cited in McDougall’s lawsuit since their identities have not been revealed by police.

On Aug. 1, 2017, the Township Committee (TC) called for Cimino to resign, held a unanimous vote of no confidence in him, and placed him and former police captain Joshua Cummis on paid leave.

The same night the TC appointed Acting Capt. Jimmy DeVaul as the new acting police chief, along with Lieutenant Albert Sally as a new acting captain.

Cummis has since retired and the Township this week approved an agreement with Cimino for him to remain on paid leave until the end of 2017 and then receive payments of nearly $280,000 during the next year.

Cummis, meanwhile, has filed his own lawsuit seeking damages for alleged wrongful termination.

Township officials announced last month that they would begin a national search for a new police chief.

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