Montclair, NJ – Montclair State University is standing up to student criticism about the manner in which its police department handled breaking up a fight on Wednesday (video below).
The incident occurred at about 4:30 p.m. on Sept. 5 when a Montclair State University police officer who was leaving the substation at the end of his shift witnessed a fight, the North Jersey Record reported.
The officer called for backup, and then ordered the men to stop fighting and to lay on the ground, according to a statement released by the university.
He ordered a man in the front seat of the car to show his hands, and then he saw movement in the backseat indicating more people present, although he “did not have a clear view since the vehicle's windows were tinted,” the statement read.
The officer drew his weapon until backup arrived, the university said.
A video filmed by a witness that quickly went viral showed the scene after backup arrived, and featured at least 10 police officers.
The video showed a suspect in a red shirt resisting arrest as an officer tried to put handcuffs on him. Then the officer took the man to the ground where two more officers jumped in to assist him.
As additional officers arrived on the scene, an officer ordered the men who remained in the car to get out, and they were put on the ground, the video showed.
Karen L. Pennington, Montclair State University’s vice president for student development and campus life, defended the officers’ handling of the incident, the North Jersey Record reported.
“The primary role of the University Police is to keep the campus safe,” Pennington said in the university’s statement. “Due to the uncertainties surrounding this altercation and vehicle stop, the officers took every precaution necessary to make sure that members of the campus community were not at risk.”
Then she addressed something that all law enforcement officers have faced – the fact that use of force, when necessary, is never pretty.
"While the optics in the video may be unclear, the reality is that the officers acted according to New Jersey Attorney General guidelines and the process worked,” Pennington said.
However, the student who filmed the encounter from a nearby parking garage and posted it on Twitter told the North Jersey Record he was “shocked and disgusted” by the manner in which the officers handled the incident.
Contrary to what his video showed, Jaffer Mehdi claimed the men stopped fighting when the officer first approached them.
"The force and reaction used on students was not right," Mehdi said.
One officer sustained injuries during the incident, according to the university’s statement.
Two of the men involved in the altercation were arrested. One of the men involved was charged with simple assault, and the other was charged with simple assault, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest, the North Jersey Record reported.
The two people who were inside the vehicle were searched and released without being charged at the time of the incident, according to the North Jersey Record.
Montclair State University Spokeswoman Erika Bleiberg said that only one of the men who were arrested was a student at the university. She said they had no information on the two men who were released at the scene.
However, Mehdi claimed he knew both of the men who were inside the car, and said that they were students, the North Jersey Record reported.
Pennington said the university police would submit a use-of-force report to the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office for independent review.
Watch the incident unfold on the video below: