The two men arrested while leading a demonstration outside City Hall seeking answers for the mysterious death of Jameek Lowery pleaded not guilty on Monday morning.
Zellie Thomas and Hawk Newsome, both leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement, were arrested and charged with obstruction for getting into the roadway while protesting on Friday night.
Both men were processed and released in matter of hours. On Monday morning, both were arraigned at the Paterson Municipal Court.
“From the video we have seen, it seems like we have nothing to worry about. These two gentlemen were exercising their First Amendment rights. They were engaged in protected activities,” said Alexander Shalom after the court appearance.
Shalom, a senior supervising attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), represents Newsome.
“We are confident at the end of this matter the charges will be dismissed or both individuals will be found not guilty by a jury,” added Thomas’ attorney Ronald Ricci.
Thomas declined to comment after the court hearing; however, Newsome said police targeted both men for leading the protests outside City Hall.
“I believe we were targeted. This is an attempt by the City of Paterson government to silence this movement and this cry for justice for Jameek Lowery. We’re just one of many and the people will be heard. We will have justice,” said Newsome.
The courtroom was packed on Monday morning. 40 people, including community leaders, appeared to show their support for Thomas and Newsome. There was more than usual police presence at the court.
Moments after the court proceedings ended, a group of people began chanting, “Justice for Jameek” outside the court complex. Three blocks away, at City Hall, municipal officials swore in six new police officers.
At the swearing in ceremony, mayor Andre Sayegh and deputy police chief Heriberto “Eddie” Rodriguez alluded to the challenges the government has faced since the death of Lowery.
“This has been a very difficult period for Paterson,” said Sayegh.
Both Thomas and Newsome led multiple nights of protests demanding answers for the death of Lowery. Protesters have been out on the street since last Tuesday, a day after Lowery was pronounced dead.
Lowery took “e-pills,” ecstasy pills, and called 911 on Jan. 5, 2019. An ambulance took him to St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center, where he became “erratic” and left. He called 911 again from Memorial Drive and Broadway stating people were trying to kill him before heading to the police station.
At the headquarters, Lowery lived streamed a panic-stricken video claiming, again, people, including police officers, were trying to kill him. Police called an ambulance to transport him to the hospital. He was restrained using physical force in the ambulance. He arrived unresponsive at the hospital and died early Monday morning.
Protesters have been demanding to know what happened in that brief window from Lowery walking into the ambulance to arriving at the hospital. Lowery’s family has been demanding answers from officials. His mother, Patrice King, wants to know what caused her son’s death. She has said he was fine when he left the police station to enter the ambulance, but return to the hospital unresponsive. Lowery had been suffering from suspected meningitis.
People who came in contact with Lowery have been asked to get preventative antibiotic treatment. The mayor and police director, who came in contact with Lowery, received treatment.
Officials have said an autopsy will determine cause of death. Police director Jerry Speziale on Monday morning said he has yet to receive Lowery’s autopsy report.
Both men are scheduled to appear in court again on Mar. 25, 2019, said Ricci.