Cummis retires from police force, receives severance pay

MAPLEWOOD, NJ — The members of the Maplewood Township Committee unanimously approved a resolution that settles the severance payout to former Maplewood Police Capt. Joshua Cummis, who recently retired after being placed on administrative leave.

Following the release of records from the July 5, 2016, clash between Maplewood police and many teenagers, many of whom were black, the committee had placed Cummis, who is heard on audio files telling other officers to push the youths to the Irvington border, on administrative leave.

Originally, Cummis was placed on administrative leave through Aug. 31, with the understanding that he would retire at the end of August; however, Cummis withdrew his retirement papers due to concerns over his retirement benefits, according to township attorney Roger Desiderio. As such, in a special Aug. 21 meeting, the Maplewood Township Committee extended his administrative leave to Sept. 30, to ensure that he would not return to duty in Maplewood.

On Sept. 5, the Township Committee, in a vote of 5-0, approved Resolution No. 163-17, which authorizes payment of severance liabilities to Cummis, who, according to the resolution, retired from active duty effective Sept. 1. In all, Cummis was paid a total of $37,318.27 in severance. This includes $23,277.63 in vacation credits for 2017 and 2018.

As of press time, Police Chief Robert Cimino remains on administrative leave and has not resigned from his post, as the Township Committee asked him to do. Mayor Vic DeLuca previously told the News-Record that the township would continue to pursue the matter; however, at the Aug. 21 meeting, the committee discussed some difficulties it could face in terminating someone’s employment with the Maplewood Police Department as the township would need cause, yet the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office investigated the incident and reported in March that there was not enough evidence for further action.

Several community members also spoke at the Sept. 5 meeting to encourage the Township Committee to accept a set of guidelines created by several local groups, including SOMA Justice, the South Orange-Maplewood Community Coalition on Race, the SOMA Black Parents Workshop, MapSO Freedom School and SOMA Action, to model how the police department should be run in the future.

“Firing Chief Cimino is not enough,” Maplewood resident and Rutgers professor Khadijah Costley White said at the Sept. 5 meeting. “He’s not the one who used chemical agents on children trying to get home; he wasn’t the one who kicked a teenager in the head or looked the other way when it happened. He may have issued orders, but he wasn’t the one who chose to follow them.”

Costley White told the committee that the several local organizations are pushing for the creation of volunteer commission comprised of residents and local experts to monitor police policies and behavior. They also request the creation of better policies regarding crowd control, improved police officer training, and that the Township Committee and Public Safety Committee collaborate with the community to make these changes.

“We are serious about these changes,” Costley White said. “We are serious about getting involved because we’ve seen what happens when we don’t. We can’t risk one our children being killed by a local police officer after going out to see the fireworks in a nearby park.

“Firing one man is not enough to resolve the actions of many,” she concluded.

Erin Scherzer, a member of the CCR, told the committee she hopes to see a more progressive training regimen as new police officers are hired. On Sept. 5, the committee unanimously approved Resolution No. 156-17, which appointed two new probationary police officers, Selina Kayla Perez and Giovanne Samuel Cruz.

“Unfortunately, I think many people feel betrayed that our policing doesn’t yet meet the progressive values of our community,” Scherzer said. “We obviously all want to feel safe, but above all we want to feel welcome. For some people, safe means being able to walk down the street as a black person and not be harassed.”

DeLuca told the speakers that their submitted guidelines would be reviewed and that the township is expecting a preliminary report from Hilliard Heintz, the firm hired to investigate the incident and propose improvements, in mid-September. DeLuca said the report will include training recommendations, which can then by compared and merged with the suggestions from the community.