Sean Anderson, Randy Reina,
Diamond Yorker
NEWARK, N.J. -- The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey today announced that the Township of Manalapan has paid $275,000 to settle a discrimination lawsuit the organization filed on behalf of three African American teenagers who said that officers searched them without justification and berated them while their three white friends were told to go home.
"We hope that this settlement will send a message to all towns and police forces that discrimination is not only wrong and illegal, but also very costly," said John O'Connor of Anderson, Kill & Olick, who represented the plaintiffs as volunteer attorney for the ACLU-NJ. "The evidence here indicated discrimination in searching the teenagers, disrespectful treatment of the parents' complaint and then a woefully inadequate investigation undertaken by the Manalapan Police. I'm sure this treatment does not represent the wishes of the people of Manalapan, and we would like to know what the town plans to do to prevent something like this from happening again."
"New Jersey needs to address racial discrimination in policing," said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Deborah Jacobs. "Incidents like this are evidence that we need greater oversight at the state and local levels."
The case stemmed from an incident on a June evening in 2003. The three plaintiffs, in sworn testimony, gave the following description of events: Diamond Yorker (then 16), Randy Reina (then 17) and Yorker's cousin, Sean Anderson (then 11), were standing with three white friends on a sidewalk that runs along Buck's Head Park Playground in Manalapan. Two police cars pulled up, apparently responding to a noise complaint elsewhere in the area.
The two white police officers singled out the two black teenagers, Yorker and Reina. 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. The officer pulled Yorker over to his police car, kicked his legs apart and searched his pockets. When Reina objected, he also was pulled over and searched. Nothing illegal was found on either youth. The police asked Reina where he lived, and when he responded "Edison," the officer told him, "I don't want to see you around Manalapan anymore."
When confronted by the police, a frightened Anderson, who was 11 at the time, cried. The police responded by calling him "punk" and said, "What's your story, tough guy." During the incident, one of the officers told the three white teenagers that they could go home and said they "don't have to see this."
But the white youths stayed. In their sworn testimony, they corroborated the description of the incident related by the African American youths.
"The police harassed these kids based on their skin color," said ACLU-NJ Legal Director Ed Barocas. "We receive lots of complaints about discrimination, and in this case the officers' discriminatory actions were blatant and brazen."
The lawsuit also challenged the Manalapan police department's response to the formal complaint lodged by the African American parents on behalf of their children.
Accompanied by their parents, Yorker and Reina went to the police station immediately following the incident to file a complaint against the police officers. The Andersons filed a complaint within a few days. The parents said that they were treated with disrespect and racial prejudice. For example, the Yorkers' complaint was curled up into a funnel shape by a sergeant who then stuffed it in his back pocket, and while Anderson's complaint was taken, the lieutenant filled out Anderson's race as "Negro."
O'Connor described the subsequent investigation by the Manalapan Police Internal Affairs Department as inadequate. "The police officers themselves testified that interviewing all witnesses to an incident is 'Investigation 101.' Yet, the Manalapan Police closed their so-called investigation without ever even interviewing any of the white witnesses," said O'Connor. The testimony of the white youths was part of the ACLU-NJ lawsuit.
"Manalapan needs to be more careful about hiring and training their officers, since the job of the police is to protect and serve, not to harass and discriminate," said Diamond Yorker, now 20, a plaintiff in the suit.
The ACLU-NJ will dedicate its legal fees to fund the organization's Racial Justice Program, a new initiative that will focus on racial discrimination, including improper police practices.
The lawsuit was captioned Yorker, et al. v. Township of Manalapan, et al. The case was filed in Superior Court in Monmouth County and was transferred to Middlesex County (because Yorker's father worked for the Monmouth County court system). The lawsuit, filed in 2004, charged discriminatory treatment and improper searches by the police. The plaintiffs' attorneys, O'Connor, Marisa Steel, and their law firm Anderson Kill & Olick, provided their legal representation pro bono.