The Jersey City Police Department’s Internal Affairs unit is investigating an incident in which officers deployed pepper spray and an extendable baton after a fight of up to 100 people broke out on Bostwick Avenue, according to Public Safety Director James Shea.
The incident on the evening of May 5, partially caught on video, took social media by storm with more than 11,000 views as of May 7.
The 45-second clip issued via Twitter shows dozens of people gathered on the sidewalk on Bostwick Avenue, some in a physical altercation with police officers, with one police officer using an extendable baton on an individual.
People on social media called the video “disturbing,” and the actions of the police department “disgusting,” but Mayor Steven Fulop indicated that the video didn’t show a complete picture.
“We live in an environment where people can post things on social media, where they can doctor and edit videos on social media, but the good thing is that CCTV cameras and body cameras of the officers show a very clear picture and timeline of what transpired on Bostwick Avenue.”
According to Shea, at 5:16 p.m. on May 5 the police department received a report of a fight involving 20 people. Sixty seconds later they received another call of a fight, now involving 50 people, and 40 seconds after that, they received a call of a fight now involving 100 people.
Six officers responded and attempted to disperse the crowd as “there was a large crowd still involved in boisterous behavior, including potential assaults against each other in the street,” Shea said.
He said one officer was “attacked by a juvenile male and grabbed around the midsection area attempting to take his weapon or appearing to take his weapon but definitely pulling at his duty belt.”
Two police officers pursued the juvenile and attempted to place him under arrest, and when they did so, he allegedly resisted and was joined by two women who allegedly also resisted arrest.
Another officer joined them, and while they were effecting the arrest, a man identified as Dashawn Muhammed allegedly came behind the officer and “put him in a bear hug.”
Two officers then fell to the ground, and another man, identified as Roland Gregory, approached the officers and went on top of the officer.
The officers deployed “OC Spray” or pepper spray, but it allegedly had no effect, and it was at that point that an officer deployed his extendable baton against the two men who were allegedly wrestling with the police officers, striking them in the arms and legs.
Six people were placed under arrest. Three juveniles, Muhammad Gregroy, and Latia Gregory.
Muhammad and Latia Gregory were charged with aggravated assault of a police officer, disorderly conduct, obstruction, resisting arrest, and failure to disperse.
Roland Gregroy was charged with obstruction.
According to Shea, the two men refused medical treatment, and all were released with a future court date.
Injuries sustained but officers still on duty
Two officers were treated for lacerations, bruises, and bloody noses.
Two officers were treated for exposure to the pepper spray.
All of the officers remain on full duty.
According to Shea, the incident lasted about 10 minutes, All the above details were ascertained through social media videos and police body cam footage, but the incident is under investigation.
Shea encourages citizens who witnessed or has footage of the incident to contact JCPD Internal Affairs or the Hudson County Prosecutors Office.
According to Shea, no officers are currently under investigation, just the incident itself. The investigation, once completed by Internal Affairs, will be turned over to the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office for review as will all footage and evidence.
Shea said the fight doesn’t appear to be gang related.
‘Outright racism has led to the conditions that we have today.’
Jersey City Councilman Rolando Lavarro urged calm, saying, “The video is deeply concerning on so many levels, and even more so given our current state of emergency with the COVID-19 pandemic”.
He said that people should respect the integrity of the investigation and refrain from prejudgments, noting that the virus has “everyone on edge, which is a huge understatement.”
“Historically, African Americans and police have had strained and difficult relations,” Lavarro said. “While little has changed that relationship, we all need to make every effort to work together. The truth is, if we are going to beat this virus, we’re all in this together…. Coronavirus crisis or not, we all have to redouble our efforts and pledge to address the root causes that allow for such an incident to explode on our streets. We all have to acknowledge that generations of neglect and outright racism have led to the conditions that we have today.”
Police Chief Michael Kelly defended the amount of force used by officers.
“Any time a police officer is in danger of losing his weapon, lives can be lost,” Kelly said. ”We don’t allow people to strike at our weapon, attempt to take our weapon from our police officers, or touch our weapon…. From all the video I’ve seen from social media, from the police video body cams, our police officers acted with great restraint and used exactly the force necessary to bring this situation to a close where nobody was hurt, even people that were fighting with the police.”
Shea condemned not only the “assault upon the officers” but “the actions that caused those officers to be called there in the middle of pandemic.”
Council President Joyce Watterman said urged anyone with information to reach out to Internal Affairs of HCPO as it is under investigation and “we really want to get to the bottom of this situation” adding “we know we have a good police force and we know that sometimes things get out of hand.”
Mayor Steven Fulop said “we take our relationship between the police department and our community very very seriously and we’ve spent a lot of time, and money, and resources to build a stronger community relationship with Jersey City Police.”
He noted that in the past the city has sided with the police department as well as the community in various similar incidents over the years.
He also said that the city has invested in technology, such as expanding CCTV cameras and body cameras, and “part of the reason we’ve done that is to protect the public and our officer in instances just like this.”