NJ police chief suspended after black teens ‘herded like cattle’ out of town by cops
MAPLEWOOD — Township officials have suspended the police chief and requested that he immediately resign after recordings were released showing police being ordered to push black township youth into a neighboring city.
The Township Committee took the action Tuesday night more than a year after four teens were arrested following a Fourth of July celebration. Officers were accused of using excessive force and teens complained that cops had forced them to march out of town — complaints that were in part borne out last week after the township finally released video from police dashcams and recordings of police radio transmissions.
Before Tuesday's meeting, an officer involved in the incident had already been suspended for 17 days after the department found that he violated rules on the use of force. Five other officers are facing "formal discipline for violating department rules and regulations."
In a rebuke of their department's leadership, the township mayor and committee members on Tuesday suspended Chief Robert Cimino with pay for 60 days and suspended Capt. Joshua Cummis with pay for 30 days.
The committee also unanimously passed a motion of no confidence in the chief and requested that he resign immediately.
Additionally, the township hired Chicago-based law enforcement consultant Hillard Heintze to review the department's policies and training and gather input from the community.
Neither Cimino nor Cummis could be reached for comment late Tuesday night. Cimino earns a base salary of $175,520 and Cummis earns a base salary of $161,386.
Maplewood is one of the most diverse communities in the state. But Committeeman Frank McGehee on Tuesday said the township's diversity belies the lack of trust residents have with local institutions like the police department.
"Black children ... were herded like cattle out of Maplewood, a town that many of these children call home," he said. "There is no greater message that you are not welcome than being driven out of your hometown simply because of the color of your skin. When did being black become a qualifying factor regarding residency in Maplewood?"
Mayor Victor DeLuca said officials were "appalled" by the use of force used against the teens. In video of the confrontation, groups of police officers are seen taking two young men to the ground and punching them.
"We want to set the record straight that this type of behavior is not going to be accepted in Maplewood and this police department is going to right themselves," DeLuca said.
Committeewoman Nancy Adams slammed the Essex County Prosecutor's Office and the police department's internal affairs unit for taking an "inordinately long and, as far as I could tell, unnecessarily so" amount of time to investigate last year's incident and release the tapes to township officials last month.
"We were appalled and disgusted by what we saw," she said. "This is not the town I live in, this is not the town I believe in."
Prosecutors in April declined to press criminal charges against any officers, including bringing bias charges against Cimino and Cummis.
This is the second time in as many years that a police chief in the state has come under fire over policing tactics that have been criticized as discriminatory.
Last year, Wyckoff's police chief was demoted and forced to retire after the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office found that he had “explicitly” violated a state directive prohibiting racial profiling by instructing officers to profile black people in the Bergen County community.
Maplewood police officers last year said they had trouble dispersing large crowds of unruly teens and had to arrest four of them, including one they said spit on an officer.
But teens said police instigated confrontation and then sprayed the crowd when the teens tried to avoid walking into Irvington, which is predominantly black.
On the audio recordings released by the township, a voice identified by local news site The Village Green as Chief Cimmino, orders officers: “We’re going to send them east.”
A voice identified by the news site as Capt. Cummis says: “Notify Irvington they are going down Elmwood toward their town.”
Cummis then says: “Once they reach the Irvington border and they’re in Irvington, I want you to maintain our border…”
“Maplewood units, I want them to maintain, once they leave our town, maintain our border.”
Residents have pointed out that Irvington has a curfew for teenagers.
“All of those children who were being forced in that direction, if they crossed that border they were subject to being detained by the Irvington police,” Walter Fields, president of the South Orange/Maplewood Black Parents Workshop, told New Jersey 101.5 on Tuesday.
“Why weren’t white children and youth from Maplewood marched into neighboring Millburn after the fireworks? That’s why we believe this was clearly a case of racial profiling and we believe the department has to be held accountable.”
With previous reporting by Adam Hochron