Community reaction to Orange police officer’s suspension is swift police officer suspended as after school incident investigated

ORANGE, NJ — Reaction to the news of the alleged use of excessive force by an Orange Police officer against twin sisters, who are Orange High School seniors, and Orange High School Assistant Principal Mohammed Abdel Aziz on Thursday, Oct. 12 has been swift. The incident occurred outside a pizza parlor and corner store at Central and Lincoln avenues and involved officer Hanifah Davis, who has been suspended.

“I saw some of it on Facebook,” said People’s Organization for Progress Chairman Larry Hamm, on Tuesday, Oct. 17. I haven’t had any contact with anybody involved. At this point, I’m waiting to see. … I have had some contact with the NAACP leadership for the area and, at this point, we’re waiting to see what actions we’re going to take.”

Hamm said he is “going to support whatever action the victims and their families want to take.” He also said he’s going to stand “with other civil rights groups in the area discussing the possibility of future actions.”

“I was glad to see the young people in Orange took to the streets immediately after it,” Hamm said, although he said he did not condone students walking out of class during school hours for a protest march on Friday, Oct. 13.

Oranges and Maplewood NAACP President Tom Puryear did applaud the Orange High School students who marched and rallied to protest their classmates’ apparent abuse at the hands of Davis.

“The recent police incident in Orange reminds our organization of the inappropriate and deadly actions some Orange police officers engaged in that resulted in the murder of Mr. Earl Faison,” said Puryear, referring the April 1999 death of a man being held in Orange Police Department custody.

Puryear made his statement in an open letter to Mayor Dwayne Warren sent out as an email blast on Saturday, Oct. 14. “As you know, while in police custody, in a tense emotional environment, Orange police officers inappropriately conducted actions and activities against an innocent individual. The Orange police officers’ actions resulted in the murder of Mr. Earl Faison. Our organization wonders if the Orange Police Department has learned from the 1999 incident.”

Puryear went on to state that the NAACP is pleased that the OHS twins who were arrested and charged in connection with the incident were “were able to walk away from their ordeal with only bruises.” However, he and others said the incident is a call to action to reform the Orange Police Department.

“We petition your office to provide the citizens of Orange with a thorough and prompt investigation into the existing police academy’s training protocols,” Pryear said. “As it is imperative that citizens have confidence that Orange police officers are trained to serve and protect, rather than to overreact, when involved in tense situations. The citizens of the township need to know that the alleged overreaction of officer Mr. Hanifah Davis, was a character flaw and not systemic institutional design.”

Puryear said he wants to make sure that Orange officers are conducting appropriate police procedures on the job every day.

Pastor William Rutherford Jr. of Ebenezer Baptist Church echoed those sentiments.

“Dwayne Warren issued a written statement. Todd Warren made a statement at the protest,” said Rutherford on Monday, Oct. 16. “They are saying the right things, but not going far enough. I wrote a letter this afternoon and am hand-delivering it this afternoon.”

Puryear said he wanted to hear more from the Warren brothers, when it comes to the incident and cited the recent case of Maplewood Police Chief Robert Cimino as a possible example of what might be done to expedite Davis’ termination from the force.

“I’m getting pushback in Orange on my request to immediately fire him,” said Rutherford. “I’d like to cite the Maplewood incident as precedent.”

Rutherford was referring to the Worrall Media coverage of the Cimino case chronicled in the Maplewood South Orange News-Record newspaper.

However, News-Record Managing Editor Yael Katzwer said she’s not sure if Cimino’s case is relevant to what Rutherford wants to do in Orange, in response to the Oct. 12 incident.

“I have been covering the Maplewood story,” said Katzwer on Monday, Oct. 16. “As you can see, they weren’t really able to fire Police Chief Cimino. They had to request that he retire and they had to give him a lot of incentive to do so.”

Although Orange City Council President Kerry Coley, a retired Orange police officer, was unaware of Katzwer’s response to Rutherford’s request for help getting information about Cimino’s case, his remarks on the record related to the Oct. 12 incident seemed to coincide with how she said Maplewood-South Orange officials chose to deal with their police chief. It should be noted, however, that police chiefs have considerably more rights, powers and legal protections than their lower-ranking subordinates.

“I only know what you know. This is an ongoing investigation,” said Coley on Monday, Oct. 16. “There shouldn’t be a rush to judgment. From the little that I know, there isn’t enough information and/or evidence for me to make a comment. I cannot confirm or deny any of this. When I receive an official timeline from the Orange police and or Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, I’ll let you know.”

The Orange Police Department and the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office are currently investigating the incident involving Davis, the sisters and Aziz.

The incident resulted in the arrests of the twin sisters on charges of obstruction, assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest, among others. Aziz was also cited by Davis for attempting to intervene on the girls’ behalf and issued a ticket.

The incident also motivated the twins’ classmates and Aziz’s students to organize a protest on Friday, Oct. 13, wherein they walked out of class, out the school and to the Robert Polhill Police Headquarters building on Park Street, near the border between Orange and East Orange. It also garnered national attention and focused the media spotlight on Orange.

“The Oranges and Maplewood Unit of the NAACP stands ready to provide the township, with successful models of effective community policing techniques that promote safe and secure communities. With a historical perspective, as to the behavior of the Orange Police Department, it appears appropriate for the township to create ‘a community police review board’ that would have the legal authority to investigate community concerns about allege police brutality claims,” said Puryear on Friday, Oct. 13.