Newark's Mayor Ras Baraka salutes new Newark Police recruit graduate in 2019 ceremony. Photo credit: City of Newark Press Office

Newark continues to apply pressure for a better system holding cops accountable, takes Civilian Complaint Review Board Case to U.S. Supreme Court

City claims New Jersey ruling violates constitutional law. “We will fight to win this case until all judicial and legislative options are exhausted,” says Mayor Baraka.

The City of Newark has petitioned the Supreme Court of the United States to review last summer’s decision by the New Jersey State Supreme Court that refused to grant subpoena powers to Newark’s Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB).

The City filed a Writ of Certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court on January 19, asking that the court review the case history in which the New Jersey Supreme Court overturned an appellate decision supporting a Newark City Ordinance that gave subpoena power to the City’s CCRB and access to Internal Affairs investigative documents.

“In the long, tortured history of police brutality against Black Americans, we have learned the only possible guarantee of full police transparency and accountability lies in the hands of the people they are sworn to protect,” said Mayor Ras J. Baraka

“We must have muscular CCRBs with real power to investigate, hear testimony and review Internal Affairs documents to assure equal justice under the law,” Mayor Baraka added. “After the events of last year, including the wanton deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, we must have CCRBs with the legal authority to probe criminal police acts.”

On March 17, 2016, the Newark Municipal Council passed an ordinance that authorizes the CCRB to conduct its own investigations of civilian complaints of police misconduct, as well as review the Newark Police Division’s Internal Affairs Unit’s investigations of police misconduct, and make discipline recommendations to the City Public Safety Director.

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New Jersey’s Attorney General Gurbir Singh Grewal with now retired Newark Police Department Director Anthony Ambrose at the swearing in of new NPD recruits in 2019. Mayor Ras Baraka is in the back reading oath. Photo credit: City of Newark Press Office

The Fraternal Order of Police sued to invalidate the ordinance, saying it was in violation of the New Jersey Attorney General guidelines. New Jersey’s Appellate Division reversed that decision and the FOP appealed to the New Jersey Supreme Court, which ruled in the FOP’s favor. In their ruling, the State Supreme Court severely restricted the powers of CCRBs, denying them the power to subpoena documents and conduct simultaneous investigations as Internal Affairs Bureaus.

Last August, Mayor Baraka called for the New Jersey Legislature to pass bills that would empower Civilian Complaint Review Boards across New Jersey with the powers the State Supreme Court denied them. He also appealed to the “good officers” to “stand with us.”

Both Mayors Steve Fulop of Jersey City and Dwayne Warren of Orange, spoke at the press conference, concurred with Mayor Baraka on the issue. 

“With no movement on this from Trenton, as two of the state’s largest cities, we feel compelled to come together to make sure there’s accountability by publicly calling on the state officials who were elected to protect the public and create change where necessary,” Mayor Fulop said.

Mayor Fulop continued. “If officers are allowed to carry guns, make arrests, and are responsible for our public safety, they should also be held accountable, and there’s no reason why the citizens shouldn’t be allowed to ensure there’s a healthy check and balance.”

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Said Mayor Warren of Orange, a city that shares a border with Newark. “Police perform their duties under the authority of the people – this is at the heart of the demand for a Civilian Complaint Review Board.  The goal is to allow the public to help create a balance between police practices and community standards.”

Since state legislators have yet to pass a bill that gives power to a civilian board that assesses and can hold cop’s accountable, Newark’s suit is tantamount in an era calling for drastic police reform. 

“This is simply about equal treatment and equal protection under the law,” said Kenyatta Stewart, Newark’s Corporation Counsel. “We have appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court because this is about federal law and rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution. We just saw during the Capitol insurrection how white protestors were treated differently by police than the Black Lives Matter protestors this summer.”

The City’s challenge to the Supreme Court suggests the New Jersey Supreme Court decision failed to uphold the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. In the suit, the city uses a specific clause. The clause says, “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

The City’s appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, filed by Raymond M. Brown and Rachel E. Simon of the law firm Pashman, Stein, Walder & Hayden of Hackensack.

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