In a move that has already raised concerns about due process, Mayor Steven Fulop and Public Safety Director James Shea announced that four police officers were suspended without pay and two deputy chiefs reassigned as a result of their actions in connection with a six-mile high speed chase on June 4.
Lt. Keith Ludwig, and police officers M.D. Khan, Erik Kosinski and Francisco Rodriguez are the four suspended.
Fulop and Shea said the actions came in response to what they claimed were violations of police policies, and not based on a news video that allegedly depicted police “kicking and dragging” a person that turned out to be an innocent bystander.
However, police union officials, who declined to be quoted directly, say the actions of the mayor came prematurely and should have been done after the investigation had been concluded.
According to the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office, on Sunday, June 4, shortly after 11 p.m., “Jersey City police officers attempted to stop a vehicle in the area of Ocean and Cator avenues in Jersey City,” said a statement from the office of Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez.
“The vehicle fled the area and was pursued by officers. The fleeing driver, Leo C. Pinkston, age 48, of Jersey City, was allegedly involved in at least two separate automobile crashes. The first crash occurred as he allegedly attempted to drive between two lanes of traffic while travelling on Tonnelle Avenue. Multiple shots were fired at the suspect by Jersey City police officers. Several blocks later, Pinkston crashed into a utility pole, causing a fire and injuring an innocent male victim who was also driving on Tonnelle Avenue.”
A few days later, a video hit the internet that some said showed the officers kicking and dragging a man near the site of the accident. Witnesses said the man was a bystander and not involved in the chase.
Suspensions and transfer are first steps
“This is the first step for all the officers involved to be held accountable for their actions," said Fulop in a prepared statement.
In a press conference held on June 12, Fulop expanded on his previous statements regarding the case.
“Policing in cities such as Jersey City is a challenging and demanding task. It often requires split second decision-making based on the information available at that moment in time,” Fulop said. “Our police officers and supervisors performing these duties are entitled to our support even when their decisions may in hindsight appear to be less than perfect. We have always and will continue to support our officers in such cases as long as they operate within standard Attorney General guidelines and their police training.”
Fulop said all officers are provided with departmental guidelines, modeled on the Attorney General of New Jersey guidelines for policing and nationally accepted best practices.
“They are also provided with initial and refresher training on these guidelines and are expected to conform to them,” he said. “The motor vehicle pursuit and subsequent collision which occurred on June 4 remains under investigation by the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office as the lead entity.”
But, he said, a preliminary investigation of that pursuit by the JCPD, consisting of a review of available paperwork and radio transmissions, points to multiple indications of the officers and supervisors acting outside of their guidelines and training.
“While the [Prosecutor’s Office] conducts its further investigation, several clear violations have been identified and will be addressed immediately by this administration,” Fulop said. “They include allowing the pursuit to extend for the time and distance involved, setting up a roadblock, firing shots at a moving vehicle, and actions seen on the video post crash that has been widely covered.”
As a result, the four officers have been suspended indefinitely without pay and will have departmental charges brought against them.
“Additionally, we will be transferring two deputy chiefs out from their current assignments as [deputy chief] of Patrol and [deputy chief] of Investigations. We view the actions on June 4 as a breakdown at multiple levels of leadership,” Fulop said. “The next step in the process is awaiting the officer interviews and results of the [Prosecutor’s Office]’s investigation and whether the [Prosecutor’s Office] deems criminal charges as appropriate with regards to their findings. This is the first step, as all of the officers involved will be held accountable for their actions or inactions that night.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org