The Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office will not prosecute officers involved in a chaotic May 5 Bostwick Avenue melee in which officers deployed OC spray and a baton, according to a three-page statement from the HCPO.
“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,” it states. “These officers’ use of mechanical force will not be presented to a Hudson County Grand Jury.”
The HCPO drew the conclusion after a roughly six-month investigation, which outraged the public after short social media clips captivated residents.
Residents questioned the city’s accounting of the incident calling for officials to suspend the officer who used his baton on an unarmed man, create a Civilian Complaint Review Board, and release police bodycam footage.
According to the HCPO, the review of the incident included examining video footage from body cameras and private cameras as well as social media, interviewing over a dozen individuals, and canvassing Bostwick Avenue to speak with witnesses.
‘Screaming, punching, and kicking’
The HCPO also shared the body camera footage with community leaders, the media, the FBI, and the New Jersey Attorney Generals Office of Public Integrity and Accountability.
According to the HCPO, on May 5 Jersey City police officers responded to multiple 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 in a physical altercation that included screaming, punching, and kicking during the governor’s stay-at-home order due to the public health emergency caused by COVID-19.
Video footage shows officers attempting to disperse the crowd using verbal commands. It wasn’t until those attempts failed that the situation devolved.
“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,” states the HCPO.
According to the HCPO, while the officers attempted to stop a fight between two people, a juvenile reached toward an officer’s duty belt in a possible attempt to disarm the officer.
What video footage showed
The juvenile fled. The officer pursued on foot, catching the juvenile attempting to enter his house.
The HCPO said that video footage shows the juvenile punch the officer in the head before responding officers attempted to arrest the resisting juvenile.
It was at this time that “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.”
When another person interfered in the arrests, two officers deployed OC spray, and one used his baton on two individuals.
A ‘chaotic event’
“Four adults and two juveniles were charged with numerous offenses stemming from the aggravated assault upon the officers and subsequent interference with police action,” said the HCPO.
“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.”
“This was an unfortunate and chaotic event that resulted in the officers on scene being forced to deploy legal and necessary force because they were attacked,” said Jersey City spokesperson Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione. “This administration has a strong track record of zero tolerance for excessive or unnecessary force used by officers, including multiple terminations. We will continue both zero tolerance for any excessive use of force and support for officers who must use necessary force. We will continue to insist on both the public release of all video recovered and incident investigations so that the public can have confidence in its police force and us. We will now look to the future and continue to ensure that we are providing the best service for all residents of Jersey City.”
While no criminal charges will be filed, the inquiry is far from over, according to the HCPO. The Jersey City Police Department’s Internal Affairs Unit will now conduct an administrative investigation.
That investigation will determine if the officers’ use of force was consistent with the state attorney general’s use-of-force policy and the JCPD’s own use of force policy.
The HCPO will oversee the administrative review, which could result in discipline or officer retraining.
The Jersey City Council has an ad hoc committee, established this summer, to review the city’s police policies and procedures.
The council approved a contract for police de-escalation training last month.
“We strongly believe that training – with an emphasis on de-escalation – must be a focal point of the ongoing national conversation around police reform,” said the HCPO. “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…We are committed to working together with all of our community stakeholders to ensure that justice is served equally and without bias.”