Cop vs. teenager tussle prompts investigation

Motor vehicle stop in Freehold Borough involves mom and son


Law enforcement authorities have launched an investigation into allegations of police brutality stemming from an incident that occurred in Freehold Borough on Jan. 29.

CHRIS KELLY staff Migdalia Irizarry (third from left) is joined by Attallah Brightwell (l) of Black Women Against Racism Empowered and retired police Sgt. De Lacy Davis (c) of Black Cops Against Police Brutality during a march in Freehold Borough on Feb. 9 that called attention to an incident in which a police officer is accused of mistreating Irizarry's teenage son. CHRIS KELLY staff Migdalia Irizarry (third from left) is joined by Attallah Brightwell (l) of Black Women Against Racism Empowered and retired police Sgt. De Lacy Davis (c) of Black Cops Against Police Brutality during a march in Freehold Borough on Feb. 9 that called attention to an incident in which a police officer is accused of mistreating Irizarry’s teenage son. The incident began with a motor vehicle stop and ended with charges being lodged against a mother and her 15-year-old son.

A Freehold Borough officer who was at the scene of the motor vehicle stop has been reassigned to other duties in the wake of the allegations of inappropriate conduct by a policeman.

According to Freehold Borough police Lt. Mark Wodell, Migdalia Irizarry was driving a vehicle past Mechanic Street on Jan. 29 while police officers were simultaneously investigating a reported assault and the subsequent flight of six men from that scene. It was reported that the assault involved a baseball bat.

Wodell said there was a great deal of laughter coming from Irizarry’s vehicle, which drew attention to it. Officers stopped her vehicle on First Street because it resembled the small sport-utility vehicle that the men who had been involved in the assault had driven off in.

During the motor vehicle stop on First Street, Irizarry, 33, of Freehold Township, was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. Her 15-year-old son was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest with force, and aggravated assault on a police officer.

Wodell said a scuffle took place during the motor vehicle stop and several officers responded to the scene.

The teenager was taken to CentraState Medical Center, Freehold Township, for treatment and then placed in the Monmouth County Youth Detention Center, Freehold Township.

Freehold Borough police Detective Daniel Heulitt was taken to CentraState Medical Center for treatment of an injured shoulder. Patrolman Chris Colaner sustained an injury to his right hand and an injury to his back and shoulder, but was not taken for treatment.

Wodell said the incident is under investigation by the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office and the Freehold Borough Police Department.

Police Chief Mitch Roth subsequently said Colaner has been removed from his regular duties on borough streets until the investigation has been complained.

The incident was the topic of discussion at the Feb. 4 meeting of the Borough Council.

Some people who spoke during the public portion of the meeting said the treatment of Irizarry and her son resulted in what many of them called “police profiling, brutality and discrimination.”

Mayor Michael Wilson said he could not comment on this specific situation, but said officials take matters such as this very seriously.

“Speaking for myself and the council, I can tell you that no one on this side of the table or in the audience will ever condone police brutality and we expect nothing less than a full and thorough investigation of the incident, not only internally with the Freehold Borough Police Department, but with the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office. I’ll leave it at that,” the mayor said.

Monmouth County First Assistant Prosecutor Peter E. Warshaw Jr. confirmed that the case had been referred to the prosecutor’s office for review and said he could make no further comment.

Roth told Greater Media Newspapers, “In light of this (Jan. 29) incident, the pending investigation, the concerns raised by the community and in the interest of the police officer and all parties involved, Patrolman Chris Colaner has been reassigned to other police-related duties pending the outcome of the investigation.”

Roth continued, “We take the allegations that have been made against the police department very seriously and we will work hard to resolve the matter. This is a very unfortunate incident.We have a very good group of men and women, a good department, and they do good work and I am proud of them. I understand that this is difficult for the community as well as for the department.”

Roth said he could not comment further because the incident is under investigation.

Borough Attorney Kerry Higgins said municipal officials take any allegations of excessive force or any other improper conduct on the part of police officers very seriously.

“We are confident that the prosecutor’s office in conjunction with the Freehold Borough Police Department will conduct a prompt, thorough and fair investigation. Freehold Borough is prepared to respond to whatever the outcome of that investigation may be. We have to allow the process to work. Until all the facts have been determined and the investigation completed, no one should jump to any conclusions,” Higgins said.

She said, “Mere allegations on either side do not equate the finding of guilt. We are taking steps to work with our community and all of our residents to build stronger bridges into our community.”

Higgins said the mayor and council members have faith in Roth and are “confident the police and prosecutor’s office investigations will bring all of the facts to light and appropriate action, if warranted, will be taken.”

In addition to borough residents, there were many people in the audience at the Feb. 4 meeting who came from neighboring towns and others who came from surrounding states.

Representing Black Cops Against Violence, East Orange, retired police Sgt. De Lacy Davis, who founded the organization, told council members he was not present by accident but because he was called in by residents.

“We’re not here with three bus loads of people like the last time,” Davis said, referring to a 2001 incident which involved allegations of police mistreatment against two young women.

No charges against the officers who were involved in that incident were issued by a state Superior Court grand jury.

“We are here to make a point.We have a 15-year-old child who was brutally punched in the face. This child has never been in any trouble. He is a good student. He helps out at his church twice a week. He is a role model for younger children and the pastor of his church will vouch for him,” Davis said. “As a cop, I know that a motor vehicle stop doesn’t end up with a child being punched in the face because the cop had an attitude.”

Davis said he wanted the Jan. 29 incident investigated.

“We will not let you be comfortable with this or push the Irizarry family out of the way. And even if they are pushed out, we won’t be,” he said.

Davis said his group needed to be “confrontational.” He said the altercation between the police officer and the teenager occurred because “he (the boy) saw his mother being manhandled. We come peacefully now. Do the right thing and we won’t have to come back here. How can our children make it here when they are taught to stay in school, do well, go to church and listen to and respect authority and then something like this happens?”

Lorenzo Dangler, president of the Long Branch chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), said he came to support the Irizarry family. He said he has a problem with anyone, young or old, being abused and being the victim of excessive force. He said he was hoping Roth would “do the right thing.”

“We can certainly negotiate and then this thing can go away by doing the right thing. This officer needs to be held accountable,” he said. “We have law enforcement people from three states represented here to discuss the relationship between the blacks and Latinos and the police department.

Derrick B. Parreott Sr., representing the New Jersey Justice Advocacy Group, said the incident has been the “focus of administrative, prosecutorial and judicial review.”

He said Irizarry is asking for the support of the community as she attempts to explain “this seemingly inappropriate treatment to her children and especially to her son, who is an honor roll student as well as a role model to younger children in his community.”

“This incident, one that apparently was one of mistaken identity, poor judgment as well as inadequate training, supervision and possible officer hiring, has caused irreparable harm to a mother, a son, many siblings, family members, friends and a community at large,” Parreott said. “The Irizarry family de- mands that the Freehold Borough Police Department, the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office and all other responsible agencies, officials and governmental agencies, investigate this matter, and with all prejudices put aside, (report) the findings of this matter in its true and bare entirety, regardless of who may lay at fault.”

Freehold Township resident Norma Randolph said she has been a lifelong community activist. Her granddaughters were the two young women involved in the 2001 incident in Freehold Borough, which involved allegations of inappropriate police conduct.

“You don’t know all the calls I get about harassment,” she said to the mayor and council. “It is real. You can do something about this.”

Addressing Wilson directly, Randolph said, “Mayor, I can take you back a long ways. I recommended you. I am looking for great things from you. My heart was hurt back then (2001), and it hurts still. I know what these people are going though. I’ve been through the pain and it still aches. There are good officers here. If there’s a bad apple in the bunch, get rid of it.”

Marisol Vega, of Jackson, grew up in the borough and graduated from Freehold High School. She said, “I know this family and I have a lot of respect for them. … I’m afraid for this boy. Will he be picked on now? Will there be retaliation? He should not have been locked up for three days.”

Reinaldo Cruz, of Perth Amboy, who named Colaner as the officer connected with the incident, told the council that the young man is now “stripped” of his ability to be a role model for younger children in his family and his community.

“It’s a shame. What will you do about this matter?” Cruz asked the mayor and council members. “You must break the code of silence in this incident.”

Nanette Curet, of Freehold Borough, said she was worried about her own children in the aftermath of the Jan. 29 incident.

“I hold my breath now until my children get home. I can’t live this way. I can’t raise my kids here like this. I moved from New York so I could get away from crime, so I could raise my children the way they should be raised. I’m begging you, we need answers,” she said.

Council President Michael DiBenedetto said the truth about what happened during the motor vehicle stop will be uncovered.

Councilman Marc Le Vine said he would be remiss if he could not be empathetic to the individuals involved. He pledged his support to get to the truth of what happened on First Street.

Councilman Kevin Kane commended Roth for being proactive in the matter and for doing what he can.

“We will all work together and the answers will be found,” Kane said.

Frank Argote-Freyre, chairman of the Monmouth County chapter of the Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey, later said he has heard about the case and has contacted the Irizarry family to get their side of the story.

“We are certainly not taking positions either way,” he said. “We have no facts in front of us, only what we have read” in the newspapers. He said the alliance would look into the incident.