Anti-Asian outburst at NJ park doesn’t rise to hate crime, prosecutors say
BERKELEY HEIGHTS — After a racist incident caught on video at a township park sparked harassment and bias intimidation charges against a woman, the Union County Prosecutor’s Office recommended that the bias charge be downgraded.
Leslie Mugford, of Berkeley Heights, was initially charged a day after the incident on July 17.
Mugford, wearing sunglasses and a ballcap, can be seen in the video running toward the cell phone camera with a dog on a leash, yelling “You wanna go motherf*****,” and then calling the person by a slur commonly used against Chinese and other people perceived to be of East Asian descent.
Ritu Chandra, who is of South Asian descent, taped the incident and reported it to police.
On Sept. 8, she read an open letter at the Berkeley Heights Town Council Meeting, saying that the municipal prosecutor downplayed the slur by saying it “wasn’t relevant since it’s the wrong slur for my ethnicity. That was more offensive than this woman,” as reported by TapInto.
On Twitter, Assemblymen Raj Mukherji, D-Hudson, and Joe Cryan, D-Union, recently urged a review of the case being handled at the municipal level, wondering if it should have been elevated to the county.
The Union County Prosecutor’s Office declined to comment.
The women had apparently had a previous run-in, according to the police report, which said that Mugford first approached Chandra and another unidentified female on July 17, calling them a “dumb cun**.”
Chandra then recorded the remainder of the July confrontation.
Before being taped, Mugford said that the women had briefly unleashed their dogs while at the park at an earlier date, the report said.
Berkeley Heights has a shared municipal court with Summit and New Providence.
An attorney who had previously represented Mugford said she was no longer a client, when contacted by New Jersey 101.5 on Tuesday.