The beating of deaf man by a police officer four days ago, video of which widely circulated on social media over the weekend, sparked outrage among residents and community leaders at a City Council meeting on Tuesday night.
Speaker after speaker criticized police for their conduct in arresting 42-year-old Raaseon Adams, known on the street as “Pike,” on Godwin Avenue. Among the dozen speakers were two women, Marcenia Cofield and Tamra Pough, who witnessed Friday’s incident.
“Can you just sit back and imagine if that was your family member on the ground getting beat?” said Pough to council members. “These officers need to be punished. Actions have to be taken against them.”
When she asked the four officers for their names and badge numbers she elicited a surprisingly unprofessional response from them, she said.
“These officers laughed in our face and they cursed at us,” said Pough. She said none of the officers provided the requested information.
“If you ask an officer for his badge number you should get the badge number,” said William McKoy, 3rd Ward councilman. He said his wife received similar treatment from a city police officer.
“It was covered,” said Pough speaking of badge number and names. “All of them were covered except for two.”
She showed a picture of the main officer shown in the video punching Adams. His uniform lacked the usual first initial and last name.
“It occurred right across the street from my home. It was 129 Godwin Avenue,” said Cofield, an U.S. Air Force veteran. She said a police officer at the scene told her someone had assaulted him. She did not see the assault on the officer, she said.
“I asked the officer to please have someone call for a sign language interpreter, he told me f— you,” said Cofield.
She also requested the officer pull up Adams’ pants – his posterior was exposed in the videos that appeared on social media – because there were children in the street. “He said FU. I don’t give an F. I found that highly offensive. As a female, I should not have been spoken to that way.”
Cofield went inside her home and collected herself. She then came out to find Adams had suffered a seizure.
“Please lay him on his side so his airway is open so he doesn’t swallow his tongue,” said Cofield, who works in the health care industry. She said police ignored her, but later turned the man on his side.
Cofield identified two of the four officers that cursed at her. She captured their names from their uniforms. She showed the images to a reporter at City Hall. The officers she identified were Daniel Cirasa, a rookie, who joined the force last year, and John Grandez, who has been with the police force since 2002.
Cofield filed an Internal Affairs complaint. She came to City Hall to file at 9:30 a.m. (advertised hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.) on Monday, but no one was there to take her complaint. She then walked to the Frank X Graves Public Safety Complex and was able to file a complaint.
Pough hasn’t filed a complaint, but said she plans to on Wednesday.
Police director Jerry Speziale explained there is a two-person satellite Internal Affairs office on the fourth floor of City Hall. He said the office at the safety complex is always staffed.
Flavio Rivera, councilman at-large, questioned having two Internal Affairs offices for a fiscally strapped municipality. He suggested the offices be merged into one and run out of City Hall.
“If I’m a resident and I want to put in a complaint, I wouldn’t feel comfortable going to the police department to put a complaint against police,” said Rivera.
Council president Maritza Davila agreed with Rivera’s suggestion.
Speziale told the Paterson Times some years ago the single Internal Affairs office was run out of City Hall. It had to be moved to the police department at the direction of the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office.
Some of the most ardent defenders of police were dismayed at the conduct of the four police officers involved in the incident.
“It was dead wrong. We don’t need that,” said Jamie Bland speaking of the officers’ conduct. She defended the city’s police force when a group tried to stage an anti-police protest following unrest in Ferguson, Missouri. “I know this is not the norm.”
“It put a real bad look on our Paterson police department. We worked too hard to build community relationships for these four individuals to destroy it,” added Sylvia Farrar, a member of the Ceasefire community group that works closely with police.
The police officer macing and repeatedly punching Adams in the back of his head shocked 17-year-old Miasia Shepperson, a student at Eastside High School. “All I saw and always will remember is a brutal attack on a deaf-mute,” she said.
Some criticized mayor Andre Sayegh’s response to the incident. Activist Bilal Hakeem said the mayor “cherry picked” leaders for a meeting about the incident at his office on Monday afternoon.
Hakeem wasn’t invited. Adams is his nephew, he said. Sayegh said he provided updates to Hakeem on Saturday and Sunday.
Sayegh said he did not exclude anyone from the meeting. Hakeem and others participated without invitation. Sayegh agreed to holding a forum open to all.
Some of those who attended the meeting did not view it as fruitful. Hakeem said there were talk about sensitivity training and an independent investigation from the prosecutor’s office. He criticized both.
Hakeem said the department requires “structural” and “policy” changes. He said the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office and the Paterson police have “too much of a rosy relationship. It’s like a husband and wife relationship. The husband isn’t going to testify against the wife nor the wife against the husband.”
Activist Ernest Rucker said the mayor talked about an independent investigation and failed to condemn the conduct of the officers. He said the attorney general’s office should investigate the incident. He cited the recent arrests of some officers for viciously assaulting an attempted-suicide victim at a hospital to assert the department has a serious problem.
“This is happening all over Paterson and it’s not being taped,” said Rucker. “There’s a culture in this police department that has to change.”
The interaction between the police officers and Adams began with both sides taunting each other. When police moved to arrest Adams he resisted
Speziale said he could not state the charges against Adams because there’s an open investigation. Adams was charged with obstructing a governmental function, said municipal officials. Some of the speakers said he was charged with resisting arrest and assaulting an officer.
Police were on Godwin Avenue conducting a drug bust at the time of the incident.
Adams has an extensive rap sheet of being involved in drug activity.
Adams’ son and brother attended the meeting. Neither spoke.
Updated 11:50 a.m.