NJ prosecutor: No special treatment for Mount Laurel accused racist
MOUNT LAUREL — Prosecutors have filed another charge of bias intimidation against a township man accused of repeatedly targeting and threatening neighbors for a several-year span while making racial tirades, including at least one incident caught on video.
However, an independent review by the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office of more than 40 complaints filed with Mount Laurel police concerning Edward “Cagney” Mathews, dating to 2016, stopped short of finding fault with the department’s handling of Mathews.
The 45-year-old Mount Laurel man now faces more than 20 separate charges filed since July 2 — when a physical confrontation involving other neighbors was recorded and went viral on social media.
Threats come to a head
Knowing he was on video, Mathews looked directly into the camera, announced his address and invited a response from the greater community before yelling more racial slurs as a responding police officer arrived, according to the review also made public on Tuesday.
This led to accusations by some that the department was showing favoritism toward Mathews.
“It is difficult to find fault with MLPD on an incident-by-incident basis,” according to the report led by Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina.
The prosecutor’s review found no indication of special treatment for Mathews, while also saying that if the police department had used a “holistic” approach, the racist theme of his harassment against neighbors might have been made more apparent earlier on.
“There were no fewer than 28 complaints made by residents of Essex Place, 17 involving Mathews, in just 14 months between April 26, 2020, and July 4, 2021,” he continued.
The most recent charge against Mathews was filed after a handwriting analysis performed by the FBI revealed that a threatening note left on a neighbor’s vehicle in January had been written by Mathews. Feces also had been smeared on the vehicle.
Protest turns violent
Three days after he shared his address on camera, a large protest gathered outside Mathews’ home on July 5, the date of his arrest.
Four people — three men and one woman — who were in the July 5 crowd were charged on Tuesday with crimes that included discharging pepper spray at the police and Mathews, damaging property and spitting at the police.
Tawanda Jones, 48, of Camden, is accused of using pepper spray on the officers. She was charged with third-degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose and fourth-degree counts of unlawful possession of a weapon, aggravated assault on a police officer, simple assault, as well as disorderly conduct.
Daniel Harris, 25, of Beverly, is accused of throwing a brick-like object through a window at Mathews’ residence just after he was taken into custody. Harris was charged with fourth-degree criminal mischief and disorderly conduct.
Christopher Staples, 21, of Pemberton, is accused of throwing rocks toward officers as they were walking with Mathews. The rocks struck a Mount Laurel police vehicle, causing nearly $600 in damage. Staples was charged with fourth-degree criminal mischief and disorderly conduct.
Khalil Wilson, 18, of Mount Laurel, is accused of spitting toward police officers as they escorted Mathews from his home. He was charged with fourth-degree throwing bodily fluids at law enforcement officers and disorderly conduct.
“The outrage sparked by Mathews’ conduct on the viral video does not give permission to anyone to commit unprovoked assaults upon police officers or acts of vandalism,'' Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina said in a written statement.
“These were blatant crimes, caught on video, and the individuals responsible must be held accountable, regardless of whether they were committed in the midst of a protest or at any other time,” Coffina said.
Mathews has remained in Burlington County jail since the summer after a judge said he presented a “high risk of danger to the community.”
Other acts of vandalism and violence linked to Mathews include firing ball bearings at two vehicles belonging to female neighbors, causing $2,350 in damage, Coffina previously said.
He is also accused of stalking one of the vehicle owners.
“We empathize with the residents of Essex Place who were on the receiving end of Mathews’ conduct,” Coffina said. “No one should have to endure racial harassment anywhere, but especially not in their own neighborhood and even in their own home.”