Maplewood, New Jersey: Officials with the Maplewood Police Department (MPD) claim to be investigating allegations of misconduct by officers following the Independence Day fireworks.
Essex County Place first reported last month that an officer from the department used pepper spray, also known as O.C. spray, on people who attended the July 5th event at Memorial Park.
Sgt. Christopher Black of the Maplewood Police Department confirmed the report to Essex County Place, stating that "a preliminary review of an incident that occurred on 7/5, indicates that O.C. spray was deployed by an officer who was on the scene of a large fight".
Sgt. Black added that "the officers attempting to break up the fight were significantly out numbered, and were being rushed by a group of individuals that had already been ordered to disperse. This group was charging at officers as the officers were attempting to separate other individuals engaged in fighting. The O.C. spray was effective in deterring these individuals from assaulting officers and the individuals involved fled into the crowd after O.C. spray was deployed."
The VIllage Green reported that Sgt. Black also stated that "the crowd eventually dispersed in the area of Elmwood Avenue near the Irvington border", and that four teenagers from South Orange and Maplewood were arrested on charges ranging from disorderly conduct to aggravated assault on a police officer.
However, witnesses to the incidents told a different story of what occurred.
"Maplewood Police called out this boy and instigated a fight, just so they could grab him", tweeted one witness, who also posted video which appears to have been taken following the officer's use of pepper spray.
"They just pepper sprayed everyone for no reason", someone can be heard stating in the video. The witness also posted that "the police were more violent towards us then the people who wanted to get at us".
Another witness posted on July 6th that officers were "forcing us to walk to Irvington last night", with video taken outside of Maplewood's Elmwood Sweet Shop, just 0.1 miles from the Irvington border.
The entire incident began 1.3 miles away along Valley Street, according to The Village Green.
Thomas Whitaker, a teacher at Columbia High School in Maplewood, spoke about the matter last week before the South Orange Maplewood Board of Education, according to the MAPSO Freedom School.
"Black students from South Orange Middle School and Columbia High School were mased and beaten with visible bruises by police as they tried to make their way home to South Orange", Whitaker stated, adding that "police were herding all of the black kids toward Irvington after a short fight".
This week, the MPD released the following statement:
The Maplewood Police Department considers all allegations of police misconduct to be extremely important and investigates all such allegations in accordance with the NJ Attorney Generals Internal Affairs Guidelines. On July 5th, Maplewood Police officers responded to various reports of disorderly conduct, fighting, the failure of large crowds to disperse and various other violations of the law. Several arrests were made on that date. The Internal Affairs Unit of the Maplewood Police Department is currently conducting an investigation into allegations regarding police activities on the date of July 5, 2016. Upon the conclusion of the the investigation the results of the investigation will be disseminated according to the NJ Attorney Generals Internal Affairs Guidelines.
Maplewood Mayor Vic DeLuca and a witness who recorded the alleged incidents did not respond to requests for comment.
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