Suspended cops were afraid of going viral, Newark union president says
NEWARK — The head of the union representing two officers who were suspended for not doing enough to stop a man from stomping their police vehicles said some cops may be second-guessing themselves because they're afraid of starring in the next viral video.
James Stewart Jr., president of FOP Lodge 12, acknowledged that the widely shared Facebook video of Altahriq Aulston jumping on the patrol cars on Saturday "looks very bad" and "paints the police department in a bad light." But after meeting with the officers, he said he understands what they did.
"I think today's climate had something to do with the way it played out," Stewart said. "The officers indicated they were aware there was a large group of people. They were aware everyone was filming it. They were aware he was being egged on. Nobody wants to be the next guy caught on videotape doing something wrong."
Aulston, 18, can be seen in the video jumping from the roof of a cop car onto its hood. After speaking to the officer through the driver-side window, Aulston jumps back onto the hood and repeatedly stomps it. When another police car arrives, Aulston jumps on that one.
The video shows other people recording the antics while an officer smiles. Onlookers can be heard telling Aulston to steal one of the patrol cars.
Aulston was eventually arrested.
The officer who stayed in the car has only a few months of service on the force while the other has been with the department for 10 years. Stewart said both are "good officers" who he believes will benefit from additional training.
"It seems the suspect dictated the circumstances. In the line of police work, that can't happen," he said. "The police still need to be in charge of the scene, and I think that got away from them a little bit."
Stewart said the decision to suspend the officers was made after additional information came to light after the incident and that they "were not suspended simply for what is seen in the video." He would not elaborate as to what the other information was, citing an ongoing investigation by the department.
Reaction to the video on social media was mixed with some people crediting the officers for not escalating the potentially volatile situation, while others said they should have done more to prevent Aulston from going as far as he did. Public Safety Director Anthony F. Ambrose said it was important for people to "not confuse restraint with a lack of response."
"If they did not help themselves, then how can we expect them to help the citizens that they serve," he said in a statement.
Stewart said city officers often find themselves on patrol alone, but that "there is the possibility that an officer will be in a physical contact with a suspect before another officer is able to get to the scene." He called that "part of being a cop anywhere."
With a new class of recruits set to start next week, Stewart said he believes the incident will be an important teaching lesson for them.
"This will be a hot topic with them and what's expected of them and how they need to react and they can't let the outside influences hamper them from doing the job that they took an oath to perform."