Philanthropist charged with murder in deadly hit-and-run crash

The New York Times

This Police Union Suspended 8 Members. Seven Are Black.

ENGLEWOOD, N.J. — The tensions within the Englewood Police Department had simmered for months: at disciplinary hearings, during Black Lives Matter marches and in the fallout over no-confidence votes by the officers’ union in the chief and deputy chief.But few people in Englewood, a small, northern New Jersey city, were prepared for what followed.In November, the union suspended eight officers who had expressed support for the chiefs. The suspensions, which last a year, meant the union would not provide the officers with legal representation if they had trouble on the job during that time.Sign up for The Morning newsletter from the New York TimesLike the chief and deputy chief, seven of the eight officers who were suspended are Black. Several other Black officers quit the union in solidarity, leaving it with few Black members.Ron Layne, a detective and the president of the union, the Englewood Police Benevolent Association, or PBA, said the suspensions had nothing to do with race. He said the suspended officers had divulged private union information, in violation of the bylaws, when they sent a letter supporting the chiefs to the mayor and City Council.Still, Layne said officers who are friendly with the chief and are Black had enjoyed unfair advantages under the Police Department’s current leadership.The suspensions, which union leaders acknowledged were rare, came after the police killing of George Floyd touched off Black Lives Matter protests across the United States. Protesters have demanded, among other things, a fundamental overhaul of policing, exposing racial fault lines in police departments and within unions.”Strange timing for such an aggressive move, for sure,” said David E. Cassidy, a lawyer for the eight officers.The conflict in Englewood, where just over a quarter of the 28,000 residents are African American, dates to at least December 2018, when a Black police captain was promoted to deputy chief over a white captain.Seven months later, the PBA cast the no-confidence votes. The union cited what it called the “unwarranted” scrutiny and “second-guessing” of officers. Layne also said officers who were close to the chief had gotten preferential job assignments, including two who he said had skipped over more senior supervisors.The union did not publicly disclose the votes until this past spring, just as the coronavirus was disproportionately ravaging minority communities and a divisive presidential election was leading many police unions to take sides.Eric V. Kleiner, a lawyer for clients in several unrelated state and federal civil rights complaints against Englewood officers, said the tensions had gotten “out of hand.””African Americans are being punished for doing their jobs,” he said, referring to the officers that the union had suspended.For work-related legal protection, the suspended officers created a new chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, a separate union that is much smaller than the PBA in New Jersey, and their lawyer said they were considering legal action.The PBA has already gone to court, filing a lawsuit against the chief, Lawrence Suffern, over what it says are a series of retaliatory work rules he introduced.Among the rules is one requiring all patrol officers to wear “class A” uniforms daily, including ties and powder-blue dress slacks, after years of cargo pants being OK. All officers must be clean-shaven. And so-called extra duty road jobs — lucrative moonlighting assignments that often involve traffic control near private construction sites — are now prohibited.The chief said the rules were all meant to mitigate risks created by the coronavirus.In their letter to city officials, the eight officers cited the broader national debate over policing and referred to the killing of Floyd “at the hands of police” and the “racial crisis that is in the forefront of America’s mind.””I am very proud of the bravery and courageousness that these suspended union members have shown, and for their ability to stand up and fight for what is right,” Officer Charles Silva, the one white member of the group, wrote in an email.Layne said he had offered to meet with the officers to discuss their concerns before the union voted to move ahead with the suspensions.”Everything became about race and it turned into something that it wasn’t,” he said.By July, the feud was on display at a disciplinary hearing that Suffern initiated against Lt. Fred Pulice, who was accused of sleeping on the job and who is the president of a different police union that represents supervisors.The proceeding was rife with political and racial overtones. Supporters of Pulice, who is white, sat on one side of the hearing room. Protesters who had participated in Black Lives Matter marches in Englewood sat on the other.In an angry exchange recorded by a reporter for, Pulice’s lawyer derided the opposing lawyer for wearing a facial covering — “the beekeeper mask,” he shouted, his own mask dangling below his chin.Ainsworth Minott, who is Black and has organized protest marches calling for Englewood officers to wear body cameras and for a civilian board to review complaints against officers, attended parts of the two-day hearing. He held a sign that said, “Police the Pulice.”Then, on Oct. 24, Minott, 39, was arrested at a sparsely attended march after a scuffle with the police. He was charged with assaulting an officer and obstructing justice.The Bergen County prosecutor has taken over the investigation, with the support of Englewood’s mayor, Michael Wildes, who witnessed the arrest. (In a sign that the police face more trouble, the prosecutor’s office this month seized control of the internal affairs division, which investigates allegations of wrongdoing by officers, officials said.)Minott, who is originally from Jamaica and grew up in Englewood, said he believed he had been targeted for arrest because of his activism.”They feel like if they cut the head off the snake,” he said, “they won’t have to worry about any more protests in Englewood.”The PBA said in a statement that Minott and three other protesters had been arrested after they “chose to interfere with an active investigation.”The prosecutor’s office declined to comment on the arrest.As for the broader internal tensions in the department Layne, the union president, said they had started when Gregory Halstead was named deputy chief over Timothy Torell, a white captain who runs the detective unit.Layne also said that the officers the union had suspended have had unfair advantages because of their relationships with the chiefs.”They’ve had preferential treatment under Suffern and Halstead,” he said.Halstead dismissed that claim as meritless. He said that all promotions were earned and based on experience and test results.”Chief Suffern has been trying to instill a sense of discipline within the department and that is being pushed back against heavily,” said Halstead, who retired on Dec. 1 after 27 years with the department for what he said were personal reasons.Suffern declined to comment.On a recent Saturday, about a dozen protesters marched through Englewood, as they do most weeks, behind an SUV playing a mix of gospel music and the song “Glory” from the “Selma” soundtrack.The Rev. Preston Thompson, the senior pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church of Englewood, said police had forgotten that their job was to “protect and serve.””The whole system is insulated to protect its own,” Thompson said. “We have to fight against it. They are not going to self-police and so we the people have to make sure we come and we protect our own.”Wildes, the mayor and a former federal prosecutor who has participated in more than a dozen Black Lives Matter marches in Englewood, said he believed that each of the city’s 72 police officers, individually, was committed to serving the public.”There isn’t a single officer who wouldn’t stick themselves in front of danger to save someone, to help a resident,” he said.”But, to me,” he added, “making sure the city leadership improves this department is really the task for 2021.”This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2020 The New York Times Company