Jersey City Black leaders want baton-wielding police officer fired and apology from city for response to street fight

Posted Jul 06, 2020

Jersey City Black community leaders are calling for the firing of the city police officer they say used excessive force with a baton during a chaotic fight on Bostwick Avenue that included the use of pepper spray by responding officers.

At a press conference on Bostwick Avenue Monday, Lincoln High School Principal Chris Gadsden and activists Pamela Johnson, Frank Gilmore and Nevin Perkins are also demanding an apology from the city to the Black community over the response to the May 5 incident, which ended with five people being arrested.

The group says Police Officer Bryant Rowan, who is seen in both the police body camera footage and independent videos recorded that day striking two people with his baton, used excessive force and should be fired.

“We want the officer… Officer Bryant Rowan Jr. to be fired or to be taken off the Jersey City Police force because of the excessive use of force on May 5,” Gadsden said. “We ask that Mayor Fulop, Director Shea and Chief Kelly give an apology to the black community here in Jersey City because of the narrative that they put out on that day.”

The incident is being investigated by the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office. No officers have been charged.

The demands come at a time when people across the country are calling for police to be better trained in de-escalating explosive situations to avoid unnecessary confrontations and tragedies. Last month city officials said it would spend $1 million on de-escalation training for all officers.

Last week the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office released footage from 23 police body cameras that show how the violent scene played out. City officials say after police responded to the dispute in the street a man attempted to grab a police officer’s gun.

Monday afternoon city officials released a slow-motion 4-second clip from one of the body cameras that show a man lunging toward a police officer’s gun. In the video, the officer reacts and the man jumps back before police chase him down Bostwick Avenue and the situation escalates.

Independent video taken that day and posted on social media focused on the events that occurred after the man allegedly reached for the gun. Those videos show the same man being apprehended on a sidewalk down the block, and three or four people attacking the police officer trying to make the arrest.

“The tapes we seen were beyond disturbing,” Gilmore said. “The mayor, the police chief and the public safety director at best flat out lied you can clearly see the action in the video of the young man pushing the officer.”

In the footage released Thursday in response to an Open Public Records Act request by The Jersey Journal, 10 officers are seen attempting to pin several people on the ground. The police deployed pepper spray and one officer, identified as Rowan, can be seen striking a man repeatedly with a baton. Men and women can be heard screaming.City Spokesperson Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione said administration has a record of disciplining and firing officers who use unnecessary force.

“In this situation however, the facts are that several officers were assaulted by the public as verified by both the body cameras and independent video,” Wallace-Scalcione said. “Furthermore, an attempt by an individual to remove an officer’s handgun is also captured on video.

“It is unfortunate that Chris Gadsen would like to exploit this situation with misinformation for personal gain and politicize violence against police officers.”

After watching the 4-second clip released by the city, Gadsden said it shows the man did not grab his weapon, but pushed the officer and ran.

“You have no documentation at all,” he said. “Whatever you saw, you did not see someone pull a weapon from an officer’s belt. It is sad they are going to defend that narrative.”

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