HCPO Finds No Wrongdoing on Part of JCPD During Bostwick Avenue Brawl in May

Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez says a complete, criminal review of the brawl on Bostwick Avenue in Jersey City last May 5 has been completed by her office.  Suarez released the following press release this afternoon, saying JCPD officers did not act inappropriately during the incident, and as a result, the case will not be presented to a Hudson County Grand Jury.  The Prosecutor adds, however, the inquiry into the incident will continue.

 

STATEMENT ON REVIEW OF BOSTWICK AVENUE USE OF FORCE BY JERSEY CITY POLICE

The Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office conducted a detailed and thorough review of the May 5, 2020 Bostwick Avenue street fight and response by members of the Jersey City Police Department. The extensive review included examining video footage retrieved from numerous Body Worn Cameras and private camera and social media footage, as well as interviewing more than a dozen individuals.

While any use of force by an officer is difficult to watch, in many instances the totality of the circumstances must be reviewed and understood before judgment on those actions can be rendered.

In this specific situation, Jersey City police officers responded to multiple citizen 9-1-1 calls regarding a large street fight on Bostwick Avenue between Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive and Ocean Avenue shortly after 5:15 p.m. Callers described a group of 20 to 100 individuals engaged in a physical altercation that included screaming, punching and kicking. This incident occurred during the Executive Order signed by Governor Murphy requiring individuals to stay home and/or social distance due to the COVID-19 health emergency.

Video footage clearly depicts responding officers attempting to disperse the crowd using verbal commands and constructive authority only. No force was used by the officers attempting to disperse the crowd, end the on-going hostilities and arguments and enforce the “Stay At Home Order.”

However, after repeated attempts to de-escalate the incident with verbal commands to disperse failed, Body Worn Camera footage and cell phone/social media videos show a chaotic scene unfold. Ultimately, several individuals – while resisting arrest and/or interfering in the officers attempt to effect a lawful arrest – took criminal action toward the officers justifying the use of some degree of mechanical force.

While attempting to stop a physical altercation between two civilians fighting with each other, a responding officer had a juvenile actor reach toward his duty belt in a possible attempt to disarm the officer. The juvenile actor immediately fled and the officer initiated a foot pursuit. The officer caught the juvenile while attempting to flee into his house. Video footage clearly shows the juvenile actor punch the officer in the head. As the responding officers attempted to arrest the resisting juvenile actor, a large number of individuals jumped on the officers and physically assaulted the officers and interfered with the arrest.

During the ensuing struggle another officer was pushed to the ground with an actor climbing on top of him exerting physical force against the officer. Another individual interfered in police efforts to subdue and arrest the actors. OC Spray was deployed by two officers and one officer used his baton on two individuals. Four adults and two juveniles were charged with numerous offenses stemming from the aggravated assault upon the officers and subsequent interference with police action.

As part of the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office’s review, a complete canvass was conducted on Bostwick Avenue in attempt to speak with any witnesses to the incident. In addition to this review, Prosecutor Suarez and members of the HCPO staff met with community leaders to view the Body Worn Camera footage. This video has also been made available to the public.

Additionally, all video footage was shared with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (NJ OPIA). The Prosecutor’s Office has consulted with and been in communication with the NJ OPIA from the start of this investigation.

The Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office has completed its criminal review of the force employed by Jersey City police officers during this incident. Based upon the totality of circumstances, there is an absence of proof beyond a reasonable doubt that these officers committed criminal acts. Accordingly, these officers’ use of mechanical force will not be presented to a Hudson County Grand Jury.

However, this does not end the inquiry. This matter must now be reviewed by the Jersey City Police Department Internal Affairs Unit for an administrative investigation to determine if the officers’ use of force was consistent with the Attorney General’s Use of Force Policy and the Jersey City Police Department’s (“JCPD”) Use of Force Policy contained in JCPD General Order 02-16.

The Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office will closely oversee this administrative review by the JCPD which could result in discipline and/or officer retraining. Further, in accordance with the New Jersey Attorney General’s Internal Affairs Policy and Procedures, the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office will review and confer on the ultimate disposition of this matter.

We strongly believe that training – with an emphasis on de-escalation – must be a focal point of the ongoing national conversation around police reform. If efforts to drive change are to succeed, law enforcement officers must be appropriately trained and the situation must be met with a new approach that includes new methods and a full-scale review of training protocols to identify areas in need of modification.

Our office is proud to work closely with both our municipal law enforcement agencies and the communities we all serve. We understand that the public’s partnership and confidence in law enforcement is essential to the administration of fair, unbiased justice. We have worked over the last several years to develop a strong relationship with the community and will continue to build upon that foundation. We are committed to working together with all of our community stakeholders to ensure that justice is served equally and without bias.

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