State Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin has expressed frustration that Bridgewater Township has taken an “an inordinate length of time” to review and release a report into the police response to an altercation between two juveniles at the Bridgewater Commons mall” class=”link “>police response to an altercation between two juveniles at the Bridgewater Commons mall one year ago which drew a global response after a video went viral.
Platkin, in a statement Friday, said that any further delay in releasing the report “frays the fragile trust between the public and the law enforcement community.”
If the report is not released “promptly,” the statement said, Platkin will review whether his office’s report and findings on the incident should be released before the Bridgewater Police Department finishes its review that has been ongoing for four months.
“I am committed to strengthening the trust the public has in the brave officers who serve in law enforcement. To do so we must have increased transparency and accountability in policing, and we are making great strides in that effort,” Platkin said in the statement.
In a statement a short time later, Bridgewater Mayor Matt Moench said he found Platkin’s statement “quite perplexing” and said the township had been “stonewalled” by the Attorney General’s Office.”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 his statement. “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 placed blame for the delay on the Attorney General’s Office.
“We can only speculate as to why this matter was delayed unnecessarily for months within the Office of the Attorney General, but consistent with the confidentiality requirements for internal affairs investigations, we will also refrain from further comment on this matter.” the mayor said in the statement.
The Attorney General’s Office did not supply Bridgewater with its Internal Affairs investigative report and related discovery until Sept. 28, 2022, Moench said.
“Since that time, we have fully apprised the Attorney General’s office of the status of the administrative process,” he added.
The mayor said 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.”
Two juveniles got into a physical altercation outside Bloomingdale’s at the mall just after 7 p.m. on Feb. 12, 2022, and multiple Bridgewater police officers responded.
The police response resulted in one juvenile, a 14-year-old Black male, being forced to the ground and handcuffed, while a larger 15-year-old, who is of Colombian and Pakistani heritage and who was perceived to be white, Platkin said, was placed on a chair and not handcuffed.
The altercation between the juveniles and police response was recorded on video by bystanders and posted to social media. More than 1,000 complaints were received by the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office and the Bridgewater Police Department, alleging discriminatory conduct based on race by the officers, Platkin said.
The video sparked protests in the township.
Civil rights lawyer Ben Crump, who has gained prominence representing the families of Black men and women killed by police throughout the country, was hired to represent the Black teen, Z’Kye Husain, of Somerville, and held a press conference at the Bridgewater municipal complex in the days following the altercation to announce he was considering litigation in the matter. No court case has been filed.
At that press conference, Z’Kye, then an eighth grader, said, “I don’t understand why I got treated differently because of the color of my skin.”
“I feel like I shouldn’t be lucky that I wasn’t hurt or killed by people who promise to protect us,” Z’Kye added. “That’s why we are here today to change that – to not be lucky to be treated like animals.”
“Thank God Z’kye is not hurting physically, though he is mentally scarred,” Crump said at the press conference.
He said there is “really no way to justify the video” of the incident that went viral and has been viewed more than 3 million times.
“This video gave us ocular proof” that the police officer used excessive force, Crump said, adding it was “explicit bias.”
Both juveniles were later released to their parents, and no charges were filed against either child.
The Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA) within the Attorney General’s Office and the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office investigated the incident. On July 1, 2022, the Attorney General’s Office formally superseded the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office and assigned the matter to the OPIA, Platkin said.
In September, OPIA completed its investigation and sent a comprehensive Internal Affairs Report and Findings to the Bridgewater Police Department, Platkin said. Since that time, the matter has been proceeding in the local administrative process over which his office has no control, he said.
The Internal Affairs Policies and Procedures generally provide for the confidentiality of Internal Affairs reports. However, the Attorney General’s Office retains the authority to release these reports and has also issued directives requiring release under specific circumstances.
Because of the public interest in the case and the seriousness of the allegations, Platkin said he will release the report at the appropriate time.
The state gives local authorities a “reasonable opportunity” to complete its review and administrative actions.
Bridgewater Township officials had told MyCentralJersey.com, as recently as last week, they have no information that can be released.
In the public summary of the department’s police department‘s website,” class=”link “>2022 Internal Affairs report posted on the police department’s website, the department reported that four Internal Affairs cases were “closed” in 2022, two criminal violations and two classified as “other rule violation.”
Neither criminal violation was sustained, and one rule violation was not sustained, according to the report.
In all, the report said, there were eight cases opened and four were still pending at the end of 2022.
Two cases were sustained, and two written reprimands or warnings were issued, the report said.
Email: [email protected]
Mike Deak is a reporter for mycentraljersey.com. To get unlimited access to his articles on Somerset and Hunterdon counties, please subscribe or activate your digital account.
This article originally appeared on MyCentralJersey.com: Bridgewater Commons mall fight: AG frustrated with police probe delay
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