Ticketed pastor asks S.B. for police study

Ticketed pastor asks S.B. for police study

Council prefers to wait for the results of police probe

By Charles W. Kim

The majority of South Brunswick’s Township Council members will wait until the Police Department completes its own investigation into a bias complaint before taking any action.

The Rev. Sherwyn James, 34, was stopped on Route 1 near Raymond Road in the early morning hours of June 17 and issued a summons by Patrolman Michael Rogers for delaying traffic.

James, who is African American and subsequently filed a bias complaint with the Police Department, asked the council Wednesday night to study the department’s record of "frivolous, minority and out-of-state driver stops.

"I have the right to travel the roadway unimpeded," said James, who is a resident of Queens, N.Y.

According to James, he pulled onto Route 1 south from the Days Inn where he stays on weekends while serving as pastor of the Mount Zion AME Church on Old Road and was stopped by Rogers about a quarter mile down the roadway.

James returns to his home in Queens during the week.

James said that as he was pulling onto the highway, he noticed a vehicle traveling at a high rate of speed approaching in the right lane.

In order to avoid a problem, James said, he pulled to the left lane, allowing the oncoming car to speed by on the right.

The pastor said that shortly after moving to the right lane, he saw a vehicle behind him, close to the rear of his own Nissan Pathfinder.

"I was, indeed, in fear of my safety," James said, explaining that he thought it might be a carjacker.

James said that he slowed, hoping the vehicle would pass.

At that point, James said Rogers turned on his police cruiser overhead lights.

"I felt somewhat safe and secure," he said.

James said he then pulled over and was met by Rogers.

James said that Rogers told him that he was traveling too slow, which like traveling too fast, might indicate a drunken driver.

James said that he offered to take a sobriety test, but Rogers declined to give him one.

According to James, Rogers took his documentation to the patrol car, returning with the summons for delaying traffic.

James said that he questioned the officer about the ticket because there were no other cars on the road.

Rogers then told him that he could "always find other things to write a ticket for," James said.

"I felt that was a veiled threat," he told the council.

An internal investigation into the incident was started following the complaint, according to Capt. Michael Marosy

"We take these complaints very seriously," Marosy said outside the meeting room.

Marosy said he could not comment on the specifics of the case, but did say that James’ presentation to the council only represented one side of the story.

He said that the officer would present his side of the incident when the case went to court yesterday.

"We do get complaints from time to time, and if a problem is found, it is taken very seriously," Marosy said, adding that the discipline for an offending officer could range from taking more sensitivity training, to a verbal warning, to more stringent measures based on the findings.

"I really like this town of South Brunswick," James said, adding that the township officers he knows are excellent.

"I am just concerned about the aggressive nature of some of the officers," he said.

Mayor Debra Johnson said that a study would be a good idea.

"It is never bad judgment to study ourselves," Johnson said.

Although Councilman Ted Van Hessen said that any veiled threat made by an officer is inappropriate, he felt that the courts were better suited to decide on the incident.

The other council members said that they wanted to wait for the results of the internal investigation by the department.

"I do have faith in our department," Luciano said, but added that the circumstances "would make any reasonable person wonder."

Deputy Mayor Frank Gambatese agreed that the council should wait for the report.

"We should do nothing until the investigation is done," Gambatese said.

Councilwoman Carol Barrett also agreed to wait, but said that she did understand James’ concerns.

Barrett said that she was stopped in 1968 while traveling alone on Route 18 in East Brunswick.

"I felt singled out; I’m still angry about that ticket," she said.

Marosy said that, if asked, the department would "provide the statistics, or do the study for the council."

"I think it was a prudent move for the council to wait until the investigation is finished," he said.