'Pop Warner Three' held at gunpoint and told they had no rights
NEWARK — The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey announced that it filed a lawsuit today against the Newark Police Department on behalf of two African American teenagers and their Pop Warner football coach who were held at gunpoint in an illegal police stop.
"Our clients were subjected to atrocious treatment by the police, which no one should have to suffer," said Avidan Cover of Gibbons P.C., who represents the Pop Warner Three. "We filed this lawsuit to ensure that these young men receive justice and that these sorts of abuses never happen again."
On the night of June 14, 2008, then-13-year-old Tony Ivey Jr., then-15-year-old Faheem Loyal and their football coach Kelvin Lamar James were pulled over and abused by several Newark police officers after a day centered around their Pop Warner football team, the North Ward Scorpions. They were pulled out of the car in the rain at gunpoint, held with guns pointed at them while police searched them and their car and, when James commented that the officers' search of his car violated his rights, he was told by an officer in obscene, threatening language that they didn't have any rights and that the police could do what they want and "had no rules." The three had committed no crimes, and a thorough search of the car turned up only football equipment.
Ivey, Loyal and James were left shaken up and frightened by the incident and feel ongoing distrust of police officers. "I used to think I might become a police officer," said Ivey. "But not anymore."
"I count on the police to protect my son, and instead they threatened his life," said Cassandra Jetter-Ivey, Tony's mother. "This isn't just about three boys at a police stop - this is about making sure it doesn't happen again. This is about restoring our trust in the police."
One of the most troubling aspects of this case was the handling of Jetter-Ivey's Internal Affairs complaint about the matter. It was initially lost, then wasn't properly followed-up on, and at one point Jetter-Ivey was told by an officer that the complaint was transferred to the gang unit because the incident involved three black youths. In fact, to this day, the families have never received a response to their Internal Affairs complaints.
The ACLU-NJ brought the incident to the attention of the City of Newark, and later to the public with a march through the city on October 22, 2008. Newark officials expressed concern and made progress with the ACLU-NJ on implementing a number of reforms that will make Internal Affairs more accessible, such as putting information about how to file a complaint on the Newark Police website, and agreeing to develop pamphlets about how to file a complaint. However, many more reforms are needed, particularly the establishment of an independent monitor.
Independent monitoring is the keystone to successful policing at the city and state levels. Independent monitors — effective in cities like Denver, San Jose, Boise and Portland — have turned poor departments around and transformed good departments into great ones. The New Jersey State Police has improved dramatically with the benefit of a monitor. And as the state police can attest to, an independent monitor's influence can bring technologies and resources that police officers need to do their jobs well. Independent monitors also help departments identify and remove the bad apples that spoil the reputation of the majority of officers who perform their difficult jobs with integrity.
"We can't fix the cracks in Internal Affairs if we can't see them, which is why we need an independent monitor to shine a light into the Newark Police Department," said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Deborah Jacobs. "A flashlight into the police department can prevent a nightstick to the chest. Innocent residents of Newark need a department they can have faith in for the city to be safe."
In addition to advocating for reforms of police practices, the ACLU also represents police officers whose rights have been violated or who have acted as whistleblowers, as documented in a forthcoming report about Internal Affairs units around the state, specifically delving into Newark's operations.
The case is captioned Jetter-Ivey v. Newark Police Department. The complaint alleges that the police officers' action violate the students' and coach's right to be free from unlawful searches and unlawful detention, and to equal treatment; and violates their rights under the New Jersey Civil Rights Act and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. The lawsuit demands that Newark takes all steps necessary to establish proper training and supervision with respect to searches and detentions, unlawful discrimination, and the proper handling of complaints. It also seeks damages for the unlawful actions taken by the police against the students and coach.