seems to be common place in the city of Newark
Student’s lawyer says illegal detainment of teen follows ‘pervasive pattern and practice’ by Newark police
Like most teenagers with access to a cell phone, Khaliah Fitchette says she videotapes everything.
So when the 17-year-old honor student saw Newark police rush to the aid of a man who collapsed on a bus last March, Fitchette produced her phone and pressed record.
Fitchette’s decision to snap a few minutes of footage caused her to spend time in handcuffs, according to a federal lawsuit filed Monday, accusing police of illegally detaining the teen.
“This is part of a fairly pervasive pattern and practice by the Newark Police Department to retaliate against individuals’ assertion of their first amendment rights,” said Seton Hall University Law Professor Baher Azmy, who is working with the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Seton Hall Center for Social Justice to represent Fitchette.
Fitchette, now 17, was dragged from the bus and handcuffed by Officers Noemi Maloon and Lloyd Thomas when she refused to stop filming them as they attended to an unconscious man on the bus, according to the suit.
Speaking to reporters in a hushed tone Monday afternoon, Fitchette said she still can’t understand why the officers tried to arrest her.
“I take pictures of everything,” said Fitchette, a University High School senior who was recently accepted to Cornell University. “I didn’t realize it was that big of a deal.”
The officers threatened to charge her with obstruction of justice, according to the suit, but juveniles cannot be charged with that crime under state law. The suit contends Fitchette did not interfere with the officers’ investigation, and had a right to film them.
“As a public servant you don’t have an expectation of privacy in public,” said Deborah Jacobs, executive director of the state ACLU.
Newark Police Director Garry McCarthy and “Sergeant DeFabio,” the officer in charge of the juvenile center at the time, are also named in the suit.
“DeFabio,” whose first name is unknown, allegedly “suggested that Officer Maloon take Khaliah to adult prisoner processing and charge her with obstruction of justice,” according to the suit.
“Everyone in that room knew she was a juvenile,” said Azmy.
Fitchette said the nearly three-hour ordeal came to an end when one of the officers suggested it “had gone too far” and returned the teen to her mother, Kameelah Phillips.
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City officials declined to comment. The officers’ statuses with the department were not immediately known.
City personnel records show no one with the name DeFabio employed by Newark police last year, but one police employee with a similar name who has since left the department. It could not be confirmed Monday whether the former employee was the same person named in the lawsuit.
Criminal charges were not filed against Fitchette, and Jacobs said the family did not file an Internal Affairs complaint against the officers.
Jacobs said Fitchette’s case is “another example of egregious misconduct” by Newark police. Last year, the ACLU filed a 96-page petition calling for federal oversight of the 1,098-member department.
Monday’s lawsuit marked the third time since 2008 that city police were accused of impeding someone’s right to photograph or videotape them.
A newspaper editor sued the department in 2008 after one of his photographers was arrested while taking pictures of a dead body in the East Ward. A month later, CBS captured footage of a special police officer choking a cameraman who was filming a protest.