Newark, NJ – Two Newark police officers have been suspended for their lack of response on Saturday after a man jumped on three different police cars and antagonized the officers.
The Newark Police Department has previously been accused of reacting too quickly and aggressively in situations where a suspect appeared to be unarmed, but this time officials have said the officers at the scene did not do enough.
Police launched an investigation after a five-minute video of the incident went viral and showed the first officer sitting in his police car, doing nothing to stop 18-year-old Altahriq Aulston, who jumped on his hood and roof for a couple of minutes, WABC reported.
"All officers are trained to respond in various types of situations, including ones where they encounter unstable individuals. These officers instead took no action at all to quell the situation, and to aid and subdue the suspect, as they are trained to do. This lack of action could have resulted in the suspect injuring himself, as well as other persons or property," Newark Public Safety Director Anthony F. Ambrose said.
The incident in question occurred at about 1:30 p.m. on Aug. 4 in the 300-block of Clinton Place near Weequahic Avenue in Newark's South Ward, NJ Advance Media reported.
In the bizarre scene captured on video by a witness, Aulston stomped around on the roof of the police car before he jumped onto the hood and stomped around some more.
Then Aulston jumped off the car and went to the driver’s window of the police car, and appeared to engage with the officer for almost a minute before he returned to the front of the car and jumped up on the hood again.
In the video, Aulston jumped up and down as hard as he could on the cruiser’s hood, making visible dents in the metal, while the officer sat in his patrol car and did nothing as he waited for backup to arrive.
Several times the man squatted down and appeared to engage the officer through the windshield in a menacing manner, the video showed, before he leapt onto the police car’s roof yet again.
Bystanders can be heard in the video speculating about why the man is “going crazy” and whether he might be on drugs, and wondering aloud why the officer has done nothing to stop the assault on his vehicle.
About 90 seconds after the video began, witnesses started speculating about where the officer’s backup was, as the officer continued to sit in the police car that was under assault.
The officer in the car has been on the police force for seven months, NJ Advance Media reported.
"Let's not mix restraint with not doing their jobs. I'm getting calls from people saying, 'Why didn't they arrest him? Instead, they just let him walk away. There's $5,000 of damage to the cars. It's not the money, it's the fact they didn't do their jobs,” Director Ambrose said.
Two minutes after the video began, two additional police units arrived to back up the one the man was standing on.
Then the officer got out of the first backup unit and approached the rear of the police vehicle Aulston was standing on and talked to him, the video showed.
All of a sudden, the man ran down off the back of the police car, past the officer, and up onto the hood and roof of the backup patrol car, the video showed.
People nearby cheered at the man’s antics, and so he took off yet again, down the back of that police car, past another Newark police officer, and up onto the hood and roof of the second backup unit, the video showed.
Aulston stood screaming unintelligibly on the hood of the third cruiser as bystanders began to heckle him and calling for him to steal a patrol car.
Then the video showed Aulston jumped down off the patrol car and approached the officer aggressively.
Despite the hoots and hollers of witnesses that seemed to escalate the man’s antics, police remained calm, the video showed.
NJ Advance Media said Newark police had identified the second officer as a 10-year veteran of the police department.
Officials suspended the officer in the first car and the officer in the first back-up unit. Neither suspended officer has been identified because the investigation is ongoing, police said.
Aulston was later arrested and charged with three counts of criminal mischief, WABC reported.
In the past, Newark police have been criticized for their aggressive policing, after a U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) investigation found evidence of excessive force, unconstitutional stops, searches and seizures, and racial discrimination in arrests, NJ Advance Media reported. The department remains under a consent decree with the DoJ.
The Newark PD has also been accused of retaliating against citizens who tried to observe or film police activity, but on Aug. 4, more than 50 onlookers stood watching and filming with their cell phones as the chaotic scene progressed.
"We still have to do our jobs," Ambrose said. "This sends the wrong message. The majority of our 1,100 officers work hard and would have handled it as they are trained. There is no room in the NPD for non-workers looking for a paycheck. Their fellow officers and Newark residents don't deserve that type of disservice."
Some have said the officers showed restraint that might have served to defuse an escalating situation, but that’s not how Newark police officials interpreted it.
"The majority of Newark Police Division officers are proud and hardworking," Ambrose said. "The Newark Police Division and the citizens of Newark deserve better than what was demonstrated by these officers. They had an opportunity, and an obligation, to help the suspect, who was acting irrationally, and they failed to do so. We should not confuse restraint with a lack of response. If they did not help themselves, then how can we expect them to help the citizens that they serve."