As the first day of classes began bright and early, Montclair State University found itself in the midst of a controversy by the afternoon after a video circulated Twitter of an arrest made by Montclair State police officers.
A fight broke out near the NJ Transit lot at Clove Road and Village Road around 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday. Multiple University Police Department vehicles showed up, guns were drawn by officers and two men who mutually entered the fight were arrested.
Senior history major Jaffer Mehdi recorded the scene while inside of the NJ Transit parking garage once the police arrived. His video soon went viral.
The video shows the first officer yelling at the young men to put their hands up as a second and third officer accompanied him. Two out of three of the officers had guns drawn while waiting for backup. While one of the young men complied, the other resisted arrest, resulting in the resistor being tackled to the ground and handcuffed. The officers then removed two remaining men from the vehicle and took them to the ground with another gun drawn, handcuffing them as well. The video ends with police taking the resistor to a second cop car, an officer questioning the compliant and officers removing the handcuffs from the other vehicle occupants, questioning them as well.
CORRECTION: The car was parked on Clove Rd. and Village Rd., not Valley Rd.
— The Montclarion (@TheMontclarion) September 7, 2018
Some people took to social media to say the officers were properly doing their job. Others think it was an example of police abusing their power.
Junior finance major Melissa Cepera believed that people went to judge the police department too quickly for their actions.
“I became aware of [the video] after seeing the email from the school, and then I saw this video on my timeline,” Cepera said. “We shouldn’t judge the police’s actions without knowing what their protocol is and/or the real nature of the situation.”
The same night the incident happened, the university sent a widespread email with a statement about the event:
“The primary role of the University Police is to keep the campus safe. Due to the uncertainties surrounding this altercation and vehicle stop, the officers took every precaution necessary to make sure that members of the campus community were not at risk. While the optics in the video may be unclear, the reality is that the officers acted according to New Jersey Attorney General guidelines and the process worked.”
Mehdi said before he started filming, he heard a verbal dispute that lead to physical contact, but he did not know the nature of the dispute.
“As the first responding officer arrived at scene, the men stopped fighting, unlike Montclair [State says] in their statement,” Mehdi said. “From that point on is on the video.”
While Mehdi thought the police department’s stop procedure was appropriate, he believes they still used excessive force beyond the initial stop.
“The stop was procedure, but to have three guns pointed at these men is not right,” Mehdi said. “There were ten plus police and three out of four men complied and still had guns pointed at them. A police officer instructed the passenger to get out of the vehicle and the man complied with his hands up, but yet he was thrown from the car and had a gun pointed at him.”
— The Montclarion (@TheMontclarion) September 6, 2018
According to a statement from the Director of Media Relations at Montclair State Erika Bleiberg, nonstudent Bruce Allen was arrested for simple assault, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. Montclair State student Martin Akerele was arrested for simple assault. The two other students in the car were later released.
Joe Biden and Mikkie Sherrill made an appearance on campus that day as well to promote Sherrill’s campaign run for New Jersey Congress. However, police were playing more roles than just security and escorts for the event at University Hall.
Mehdi said he’s been told to take down the video by friends of the officers and students satisfied with how the police handled the situation. He even has received messages suggesting the video changed prospective students’ decisions to apply to the university.