Newark - The ACLU-NJ filed a discrimination lawsuit today against the Manalapan Police Department on behalf of three African-American teenagers who said that officers searched them without justification and called them names while the boys' three white friends were told to go home.
"The police harassed these kids based on their skin color," said Ed Barocas, ACLU-NJ Legal Director. "We receive discrimination complaints every day, but in this case there were reliable witnesses, and the differential treatment engaged in by the officers was blatant and brazen."
The case stems from an incident on June 21, 2003 when Diamond Yorker (then 16), Randy Reina (then 17), Sean Anderson (then 11), and three white friends were together near Buck's Head Park in Manalapan. According to all six boys, around 10:00 p.m., two police officers stopped their separate cars and approached the youngsters. One officer told Yorker to take his hands out of his pockets. Yorker asked why he had to do so since he was doing nothing wrong, but nevertheless complied. Without reason or provocation, the officer put Yorker up against a car and searched him. Reina told the officer he had no right to search Yorker, at which point the second officer asked Reina where he lived. When Reina said that he was from Edison, the officer said that he never wanted to see Reina in Manalapan again and put Reina up against a car to search him. The actions of the police scared eleven year old Anderson and he became upset, which the officers responded to by calling him names like "baby" and "little punk." During the incident, one of the officers told the three white boys to leave and that they "don't have to see this." The white boys didn't leave, and have provided statements supporting the African American boys' claims.
The boys' parents said that when they filed complaints with the Manalapan Police Department they were treated disrespectfully and with a lack of racial sensitivity. For example, the Yorkers' complaint was curled up into a funnel-shape by a sergeant who stuffed it in his back pocket and, during the taking of the Mr. Anderson's complaint, the detective filled out his race as "Negro." The police investigated the complaints but no further action was taken.
The lawsuit alleges that the Manalapan Police Department and Officers Turner and Chaflin violated state discrimination laws and the search and seizure and equal protection clauses of the federal and state constitutions. In addition to unspecified money damages, the lawsuit seeks a court order enjoining further discriminatory activity and directing Manalapan to provide proper training and to take other remedial action to prevent similar occurrences in the future.
The lawsuit is captioned Yorker, et al. v. Township of Manalapan, et al. The case was filed in Superior Court in Monmouth County, New Jersey. The cooperating attorney representing the plaintiffs on behalf of the ACLU of New Jersey is John O'Connor of Anderson, Kill & Olick.