Protesters claim conflict of interest in case of NJ officer who killed man with hands up

Reuters / Eduardo Munoz
Outrage has grown over the police killing of a New Jersey man as he tried to get out of a car with his hands up. Now protesters are asking the state's attorney to take over the investigation due to conflicts of interest in the county prosecutor’s office.

Police in Bridgeton released a video Tuesday showing two police officers, Braheme Days and Roger Worley, shooting and killing Jerame Reid after he tried to get out of a car with his hands up during what originally seemed to be a routine traffic stop. The incident happened on December 30, but the Bridgeton Police Department only made the recording available after receiving an open records request.

A small group gathered outside the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office after the footage was released, calling for the state attorney general to take over the investigation. The demonstration ‒ the third of its kind since the shooting ‒ was led by civil rights activist Walter Hudson, and included a number of community figures, the South Jersey Times reported.

Latisha Fuqua, a friend of Reid’s, claimed that police have consistently harassed residents in the community

“We go through this harassment every day,” she said.

The protest was different than the previous ones because it was directed not at the police, but at the prosecutor’s office.

“One of the things I want to talk about is the prosecutor,” Hudson, the chairman and founder of the National Awareness Alliance, said. “I met with the attorney general today, and the human rights commission in Trenton and I made a plea to them to take over the investigation of Jerame Reid.”

“We are not asking, no, in fact, we’re not asking, we’re demanding that Prosecutor Webb-McRae recuse her entire staff from this investigation and give it to the Attorney General’s Office,” he added.

Cumberland County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae recused herself from the case because she knows Days from the community, First Assistant Prosecutor Harold Shapiro, who is handling the investigation, told the Times.

"We want to ensure a fair and impartial investigation," Hudson said. "We're not asking for any special favors. We're asking for what is right."

Reid’s case is not the first time the prosecutor’s office has come under fire for its ties to the community. In September, William T. Johnson, the prosecutor’s office’s former chief of detectives filed a whistleblower lawsuit claiming that conflicts of interest were harming investigations run by his former employer. He also charged that the office violated the civil rights of resident whom Johnson said was incarcerated without sufficient evidence, the South Jersey Times reported.

The suit, which followed two earlier suits by ex-employees from 2013, “brought all sorts of unwanted attention to the office,” the Daily Beast noted. “And that was before Jerame Reid was killed and the protests over his death began.”

Questions arise over officers’ actions

Reid, 36, was known to the police, including Days, due to previous interactions. The victim spent about 13 years in prison for shooting at three state troopers when he was a teenager. Then Reid was arrested and charged with several crimes over the summer, including drug possession and obstruction; Days was one of the arresting officers.

Richard Rivera, chairman of the civil rights committee at New Jersey’s Latino Leadership Alliance, told the Los Angeles Times that the casual conversation at the beginning of the dashboard-camera video released by police, as well as Days' use of Reid's first name, "makes it very clear that he knows this individual."

He also pointed to Days' solo approach to the stopped car as a move that is "unheard of."

"The whole reason they're assigned to the area together is to protect each other's safety," Rivera, a former police officer himself, said.

Conrad Benedetto, lawyer for Reid's estate, said in a statement that the footage “raises serious questions as to the legality and/or reasonableness of the officers’ actions that night” because Reid was shot as he raised his hands.

Benedetto told the South Jersey Times that his office has issued a letter to the prosecutor’s office requesting that the entire department recuse itself from the investigation and that the probe be handed over to “either the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General or some non-conflicted law enforcement agency.”

The state attorney general’s office has said it will not take over the case.