State, Bridgewater blame each other for slow probe of NJ teen mall fight police response
⚫️ It’s been a year since police response to a teen NJ mall fight sparked racial profiling concerns
⚫️ The state Attorney General says Bridgewater is taking too long with the process since being given an internal affairs report in September
⚫️ Bridgewater Mayor fires back, saying any causes for delay “rests squarely in Trenton”
A full year has passed since a teen brawl broken up by officers at Bridgewater Commons Mall sparked a public outcry, with accusations of racial profiling in the police response caught on video.
On Friday, state Attorney General Matthew Platkin said township officials were too slow in handling the matter, saying it was an “inordinate length of time” and that “further delay only frustrates and frays the fragile trust between the public and the law enforcement community.”
In response, Bridgewater Mayor Matthew Moench called the Attorney General’s statement “quite perplexing,” pointing to the time it took the state to share its internal affairs investigative report with the town.
Cops sat ‘white’ teen on couch but tackled Black teen to ground in NJ mall fight
On the evening of Feb. 12, 2022, two male juveniles got into a physical fight outside the Bloomingdale’s store inside the mall.
The incident was recorded by body-worn cameras, Platkin said, and by other teens with the group.
Video clips that went viral show a 14-year-old Black male forced to the ground and handcuffed, while a 15-year-old male, initially perceived by the public to be white, was guided to a chair and not handcuffed.
The older boy was later confirmed to be of Colombian and Pakistani heritage.
Both teens were later released to their parents and no charges were filed against either child.
More than 1,000 complaints were received by the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office and the Bridgewater Police Department, accusing the officers of discriminatory conduct based on race, Platkin said.
There were multiple demonstrations in the weeks after the incident by protesters asking for action from the township.
Bridgewater Commons mall was also criticized for asking the family of the Black teen to pay for damage caused during the initial arrest.
Bridgewater mall fight police response, reviewed for months by authorities
Both the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office and the Office of the Attorney General investigated the incident.
On July 1, the Attorney General’s Office formally superseded the Prosecutor’s Office and assigned the matter to its Office of Public Integrity and Accountability.
In September, OPIA finished its investigation and sent an internal affairs report and findings to the acting chief of the Bridgewater Township Police Department.
Platkin on Friday said, “If the local administrative process is not concluded promptly, the Attorney General will reassess whether the Report and Findings should be released prior to the conclusion of the administrative proceedings that have been ongoing for more than four months.”
Bridgewater says OAG ‘essentially stonewalled’ town during state investigation
“When we attempted repeatedly to engage with the Attorney General’s office throughout the spring, summer, and fall of last year, we were essentially stonewalled,” Moench said in a written statement Friday.
"If, as the Attorney General claims, there has been a delay that ‘frustrates and frays the fragile trust between the public and the law enforcement community’ then the responsibility of that delay rests squarely in Trenton, not here in Bridgewater,” Moench said.
The mayor pointed out that the Attorney General’s office handed over its internal affairs investigative report and related discovery to the town on Sept. 28.
“We can only speculate as to why this matter was delayed unnecessarily for months within the Office of the Attorney General,” Moench said in his response on Friday.
He also countered Platkin’s reference to the state releasing the internal report and findings.
“The Township will reassess whether our own correspondence related to the Attorney General’s authority and undue delays in this matter should be released prior to the conclusion of the administrative proceedings,” Moench added.
Erin Vogt is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach her at email@example.com
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