YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: An activist representing a Garfield man killed while resisting arrest has obtained a judge’s order that the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office explain in court why it won’t provide the names of recent subjects of police force, excluding juveniles.
Superior Court Judge Peter E. Doyne approved the show-cause order Thursday. He set a July 13 hearing date and required a written response by June 26.
The order was obtained by Richard Rivera, who has filed suit against Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli and Assistant Prosecutor Frank Puccio over attempts to get certain records following the death of Malik Williams.
A grand jury is examining the shooting death of Williams after he escaped from Garfield police headquarters and barricaded himself inside a resident’s garage, where two officers surprised him.
Molinelli, in an official statement right after the Dec. 10 shooting, said Williams wielded tools in each hand when the officers opened the bay door.
Protestors have insisted that authorities provide answers, despite the fact that laws governing the grand jury process carry with them sanctions if anyone breaches those restrictions.
Rivera, a former West New York police officer, has organized protests against the prosecutor’s office and local police.
He and a companion, identified as Miguel Reyes, also were arrested, charged with defiant trespass and released after they showed up at Molinelli’s office and refused to leave a private area.
Molinelli characterized Rivera, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress as an independent against Bob Menendez in 1998, as a “self described public advocate for police affairs and police brutality issues.”
The prosecutor said that Rivera already requested a meeting with him but that he “was advised that during the pendency of our investigation and decision of whether to present this matter to a Grand Jury, it would be inappropriate to meet with any group or person unrelated to this tragic incident in Garfield so as to allow our office to maintain neutrality and in deference to those that might, at some time in the future, be the subject of a Grand Jury investigation.
“Mr. Rivera was advised in writing that our office had no difficulty in meeting with him, but that the meeting would have to take place after the investigation was complete and so as to allow for a more free exchange of information,” Molinelli added.
“The Garfield police shooting is a serious case and requires a very thorough and careful examination,” he said. “There are substantial scientific tests that are awaiting examination and further information must still be confirmed prior to a Grand Jury decision being made. This has all been communicated to the family members.”
Rivera has filed a request under the Open Public Records Act on March 26 for names of people, excluding juveniles, who were involved in the use of force by police in Bergen County in 2011.
“This request includes individual use of force incident reports, quarterly and annual summaries,” a complaint on file at the Bergen County Courthouse says.
Rivera told CLIFFVIEW PILOT he filed the request because police use of force “was among the topics within police accountability I sought to talk to [P]rosecutor Molinelli about the day he had me arrested at the courthouse.”
On April 3, Puccio responded, saying that he could provide 1,079 pages of reports but that the names of all of the persons who were subjected to force would be blacked out – a common practice involving juveniles.
To complete “an individualized inquiry regarding whether there was an arrest in each individual report would require an extraordinary amount of time and effort,” Rivera said he was told.
Such a review is necessary, Puccio explained, because anyone who wasn’t arrested has a reasonable expectation of privacy. Even if someone had been forcibly taken into custody, Puccio said, that person could have been taken to a medical facility for psychiatric evaluation rather than to be arrested and charged – in which case they have privacy rights.
Rivera, who claims those names nonetheless are public information and must be included, said he got the use-of-force records he sought last Thursday. All of the names were redacted, he said.
Rivera claims he has “a strong interest in the records because they are the only means that he has of knowing the frequency and type of force that is used on suspects or subjects.”
The complaint through which he obtained Doyne’s order yesterday maintains that the public’s interest in obtaining the documents outweigh any persona privacy interests.
As CLIFFVIEW PILOT first reported, Williams turned himself in to Garfield police on Dec. 10 in response to a warrant for his arrest on aggravated assault charges in connection with a fight he had with his girlfriend.
While they were processing him, Williams bolted, the prosecutor said.
Several officers chased him north along the railroad tracks near police headquarters, as a Bergen County Police K-9 unit was summoned.
As CLIFFVIEW PILOT first reported exclusively, the police dog tracked Williams directly to a private residential garage on Dahnerts Park Lane.
A Garfield police officer and Bergen County officer found the side door barricaded shut, so they tried the bay door. It opened and the officers confronted Williams, who Molinelli said had armed himself with tools gathered from the garage.
Williams was shot several times and was later pronounced dead at Hackensack University Medical Center.
The 5-foot-10, 150-pound Williams had been arrested three times in two years in Bergen County, once for resisting arrest and eluding and two more times for aggravated assault — including an incident in May last year for which he had to post $25,000 bail, public records show.
The grand jury investigation includes evidence collected by the Bergen County Sheriff’s Department, statements taken by Molinelli’s detective and an autopsy conducted by the Medical Examiner’s Office.
Several protests have been held, some organized by Rivera, who retired on a disability pension after four years as a West New York cop as part of a settlement after he was terminated on charges of writing a swastika on a test booklet.
Rivera contended that the West New York charges, while true, were brought in retaliation for his cooperation with the FBI in a corruption probe. He said that he drew the symbol after learning that it once represented peace in the Hindu culture.
A state court in February rejected Rivera’s bid to rejoin the department, citing a $675,000 settlement in which he agreed not to seek reinstatement there. READ MORE….