Orange police officer suspended as after school incident investigated

ORANGE, NJ — The Orange Police Department and the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office are currently investigating the incident involving Orange Police Officer Hanifah Davis, two twin sisters who are seniors at Orange High School, and Orange High School Athletic Director and Vice Principal Mohammed Abdel Aziz that occurred Thursday, Oct. 12, on the corner of Central and Lincoln avenues, a shopping area frequented by students from Orange High School and the nearby Orange Preparatory Academy.

A chaotic scene — caught on video — resulted in the arrests of the sisters on charges of obstruction, assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest, among others. Aziz was also issued a ticket by Davis for attempting to intervene on the girls’ behalf. This set off a chain of events that led to a protest march by students on Friday, Oct. 13, and the suspension of Davis.

Video footage of the altercation between the students and police shows Davis approaching one of the twins as she and a group of other teens appear to be standing outside the pizza parlor and bodega on the corner of Central and Lincoln avenues, trying to get her and the others to disperse. Initially, the footage seems to show Davis speaking to the students and ordering them to vacate the area, but suddenly shows Davis attempting to restrain one of the girls, taking her down to the ground and wrestling with her to get her under control, then doing the same to her twin when as she tries to intervene.

Other students at the scene recorded the incident with cell phones, all the while yelling at Davis. Aziz can be seen entering from the right and trying to get Davis off the girls, who were down on the ground with his knees in their backs. Davis can be seen responding to Aziz’s intervention by slamming him into one of the storefronts and attempting to restrain him before turning back to the girls, who were still on the ground, attempting to get up.

The incident motivated Orange High School students to organize a classroom walkout protest on Friday, Oct. 13. Students proceeded down Lincoln Avenue to Main Street, where they turned left and marched down the city’s main commercial strip to the Robert Polhill Police Headquarters on Park Street, near the border between Orange and East Orange.

The incident garnered national attention and focused the media spotlight on Orange, prompting Mayor Dwayne Warren to issue a statement on Friday, Oct. 13, to reassure the public. Warren, his brother, police Director Todd Warren, and officials from the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office said an investigation must be conducted to determine exactly what happened.

“In light of the altercation involving the Orange Police Department and some students, Officer Hanifah Davis has been relieved of duty, pending the outcome of an investigation initiated by the Orange Police Department,” said Warren on Friday, Oct. 13. “The Essex County Prosecutor’s Office has been notified of the incident and all the Orange police will cooperate fully with the (Essex County Prosecutor’s Office) in the investigation. The investigators are reviewing all video footage available from nearby surveillance cameras, to gather as much information as possible since.”

Warren also sought to dispel some of the rumors circulating about the incident.

“Contrary to rumors on social media, an Orange Board of Education staff member was not arrested,” said Warren. “He was issued a ticket and the issuance of a ticket is part of the investigation. This matter is being taken seriously by the Orange Police Department and the Warren administration. All the facts will be shared with the public, as soon as they are available.”

The Essex County Prosecutor’s Office confirmed that an Orange Police Department Internal Affairs investigation is under way, with assistance from county law enforcement.

“The investigation is being conducted by the Internal Affairs Unit of the Orange Police Department,” said Essex County Prosecutor’s Office spokesperson Katherine Carter on Tuesday, Oct. 17. “We are overseeing the investigation. We do not have any statements at this time, but check with Orange (Police Department).”

Orange police Director Todd Warren and business administrator Chris Hartwyck held a press conference inside City Hall on Friday, Oct. 13, to address the incident and what the city will do next.

“He’s suspended. The pay or not being paid is based on the investigation. The business administrator will make that determination. But he is removed from duty,” said Todd Warren. “We’re looking at every aspect of this situation. We don’t condone violence against young people. We notified the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office. We’re trying to establish a sense of transparency, to let everyone know what’s going on. He’s suspended, pending the outcome of the investigation. If the allegations are substantiated, we will take the necessary actions.”

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