TRENTON — Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin today provided an update on the investigation into the police response to an altercation between two juveniles at the Bridgewater Commons Mall on February 12, 2022.
The incident was recorded by body-worn cameras and mall patrons. Two juveniles got into a physical altercation outside the Bloomingdale’s at the mall just after 7:00 p.m. on February 12. Multiple Bridgewater Township police officers responded. The police response resulted in one juvenile, a 14-year-old Black male, being forced to the ground and handcuffed, while a physically larger 15-year-old, who is of Colombian and Pakistani heritage and who was perceived to be white, was placed on a chair and not handcuffed.
The altercation between the juveniles and police response were video recorded by bystanders and posted to social media. More than 1,000 complaints were received by the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office and the Bridgewater Police Department, alleging discriminatory conduct based on race by the officers. Both juveniles were later released to their parents, and no charges were filed against either child.
The Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA) within the Office of the Attorney General and the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office investigated the incident. On July 1, 2022, the Attorney General’s Office formally superseded the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office and assigned the matter to the OPIA.
As the State’s chief law enforcement officer, the Attorney General has statutory authority to participate in, supervise or take responsibility for any criminal investigation. Under New Jersey law, when the Attorney General believes it would be in the best interests of the State, his office can supersede a county prosecutor, as well launch any investigation, criminal action or proceeding.
In September of 2022, OPIA completed its investigation and sent a comprehensive Internal Affairs Report and Findings to the Acting Chief of the Bridgewater Township Police Department. Since that time, the matter has been proceeding in the local administrative process over which this Office has no control.
The Internal Affairs Policies and Procedures generally provide for the confidentiality of internal affairs reports. However, the Attorney General retains the authority to release these reports and has also issued directives requiring release under specific circumstances. Given the nature of the conduct, the seriousness of the allegations, as well as the public’s interest in this case, the Attorney General has made clear that he will release the Report and Findings to the public at the appropriate time.
Thus far, consistent with usual practice, the Attorney General has not released the Report and Findings to provide a reasonable opportunity for the local administrative process to run its course. However, that process has taken an inordinate length of time and further delay only frustrates and frays the fragile trust between the public and the law enforcement community. If the local administrative process is not concluded promptly, the Attorney General will reassess whether the Report and Findings should be released prior to the conclusion of the administrative proceedings that have been ongoing for more than four months.
“I am committed to strengthening the trust the public has in the brave officers who serve in law enforcement. To do so we must have increased transparency and accountability in policing, and we are making great strides in that effort,” said Attorney General Platkin. “In July 2022, Governor Murphy signed into law a bill that will make law enforcement a licensed profession in this State. Doing so will, among other things, create uniformity in training standards improving both officer accountability and officer safety. In November of last year, I issued a law enforcement directive that includes transformative requirements for disclosure of misconduct by law enforcement officers. My office is committed to supporting the dedicated women and men who serve the people of our state with honor and distinction – and that means we must honestly confront and correct instances when conduct occurs that betrays the high standards we set for this noble profession.”