Police punched restrained man in the face in Dover, New Jersey
The suspect, Cyprian Luke, 19, of Morristown, was being held at the Morris County Correctional Facility on Sunday pending a court appearance Monday. He was also charged with violating court orders and criminal mischief.
The Morris County Prosecutor’s office said late Sunday that it is investigating the incident under the supervision of the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office “as required under their directive.”
About 50 people, including friends and members of Luke’s family, gathered Sunday evening to organize a protest in the parking lot of a Krauszer’s convenience store located across North Warren Street from the Dover Police Department.
They also called for the dismissal of one officer by name who some protesters claim threw the punches.
What happened before the punches
Before the scene in the video that involved the officers restraining Luke, police were seen on video dragging the unwilling suspect toward a patrol car while enduring an expletive-laden rant from those observing the arrest.
Police did not appear to react in a physical manner toward those cursing them or the person recording the video.
Marcus Robinson of Morristown said he was with Luke and another friend when he stopped briefly in the Krauszer’s store off North Warren Street at 2:15 a.m.
When Robinson exited the store, he said, he saw the police confronting Luke outside the Mill Pond Towers apartments. Robinson, who captured the encounter in a cellphone video, also said police used a chemical spray to subdue Luke.
“First thing I see is they sprayed him with mace,” Robinson said. “They were all over him. He couldn’t move his arms, but then they were saying ‘stop resisting’ at the same time. And then they started punching him. I thought bro was going to die.”
Robinson said they were in town to get tattoos and were sober at the time.
Police Safety Director Daniel Degroot said later Sunday that “the investigation is commencing immediately and is a priority due to the serious nature of the incident.”
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Shanell Harris of Boonton, who said she was Luke’s wife, took a call from Luke from prison as the protest continued and relayed answers to questions from the media.
“He said his head hurts, he has migraines on and off,” she said, holding her toddler daughter, Athena.
Harris and others at the protest confirmed reports that when first confronted, Luke gave the false name of “Anthony” to police.
“But how would they know?” Harris said. “They didn’t know him. He’s from Morristown. How would they know?”
Robinson said he also spoke to Luke Sunday from the jail.
“He’s hurting bad,” he said.
Luke’s aunt, Rachelle Cruz, was among the protesters.
“He lives in the Hollow, which is the toughest area to live in Morristown, and you kind of have to be a little tougher. He doesn’t like it, but he has to do what he’s got to do to survive sometimes. But he’s a great kid. The people here are doing it out of love for him.”
Luke’s grandmother, Aura Heredia, also came to the protest, where she teared up after someone showed her the video for the first time.
“It’s too much,” she said, her voice breaking.
Karol Ruiz, an attorney and president of the Morristown-based nonprofit Wind of the Spirit immigrant resource center, organized the protesters.
“That video showed excessive force to me. That is a concerning pattern we are seeing across the country.”
Dover Alderwoman Carolyn Blackman called for “restraint” and for “an independent authority to conduct a swift, full and fair investigation into this tragic incident.”
“When videos such as these surface, emotions can run high, especially in the African-American and Latino communities, as we have had to endure more than our fair share of mistreatment on every level,” Blackman said.
“I praise the professionalism of our dedicated and hard-working police officers as they deal with challenging situations every day. However, Dover is not immune to the potential for the use of excessive force. Brutality by law enforcement against the very people they are duty-bound to protect and serve is unacceptable “