Family, friends and concerned citizens gathered in April at Feaster Park on Throop Avenue and Handy Street for a vigil for Barry Deloatch, who was fatally shot nearby on Sept. 22, 2011.
As Barry Gavin prepared for the first anniversary of the death of his father, Barry Deloatch, he reflected on what he described as the most trying year of his life.
To remember his father, Gavin has organized a candlelight vigil that will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday at Feaster Park, across from the darkened alley on Throop Avenue at Handy Street where Deloatch was shot by then-city police Officer Brad Berdel one year ago Saturday.
Berdel resigned last month in the face of three departmental violations brought against him in relation to the Deloatch incident.
The vigil also will protest what Gavin termed police brutality. He expressed disappointment in early May with the grand jury decision that cleared Berdel and his former partner, Daniel Mazan, of wrongdoing. He also accused the city Police Department and the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office of failing to adequately address accusations of excessive force.
“I’m still staying positive and seeking justice, but this has been the most trying year by far,” said Gavin, 31. “It’s not easy losing a father to police brutality or losing a father to something that has anything to do with people who are supposed to be protecting and serving. They were supposed to protect and serve, and the outcome is that my dad is still gone.
“A year later, I have yet to let him rest in peace because so much is going on in my brain and everything still is fresh with me. I feel more hurt than I did when I found out the news,” Gavin said.
“It’s not just the grand jury decision,” he said. “It’s the way the police are not taking corrective action to make sure it never happens again. The way the police and the prosecutor handle this type of business can’t be trusted. …You shouldn’t be scared of the police, but that’s the way I feel now. If they can do anything differently, I’d like to see that done, so no one has to go through what I’m going through, because it’s not a good feeling. I really miss my father.”
The city and the Prosecutor’s Office put several measures in place after the Deloatch shooting and an unrelated charge filed three weeks later by the Police Department against Sgt. Richard Rowe, its former Internal Affairs supervisor. Rowe was indicted on Jan. 30 on charges of botching 81 complaints over an eight-year period.
The changes included naming Assistant City Attorney Charly Gayden as community police liaison, placing the review of internal affairs complaints in the hands of the Prosecutor’s Office and posting those complaints online monthly. The city also named former Judge C. Judson Hamlin as an independent hearing officer for any complaint made when Rowe was in charge, from January 2003 to Oct. 12, 2011.
The mandate to oversee the internal affairs function of the local police departments is to determine whether each unit is in compliance with the Attorney General’s policies and directives, Middlesex County Prosecutor Bruce Kaplan said. As it pertains to allegations of excessive force, the Prosecutor’s Office also has promulgated rules that go beyond those imposed by the attorney general, Kaplan said.
“Specifically, each law-enforcement agency in Middlesex County must, within 24 hours, report all allegations of excessive use of force to the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office,” Kaplan said. “The Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office thereafter makes an independent evaluation of the facts to determine whether there is sufficient credible evidence to warrant criminal prosecution or whether the matter should be returned to the local agency to complete its departmental review.
“In all cases returned for departmental review,” he continued, “the agency is required to advise the Prosecutor’s Office in a timely manner as to the disposition of the investigation, as well as the discipline imposed, if the officer was found to have violated agency rules, regulations and/or policies. This reporting ensures that the Prosecutor’s Office stays fully informed and better able to carry out its oversight responsibilities.”
Reviewing the case
According to police reports, the shooting was preceded by a chase that led to an altercation between Mazan and Deloatch, a twice-convicted drug offender. While pinned under a broken fence in dark alley, the 140-pound Deloatch started striking the 220-pound Mazan with a 2-by-4 found nearby.
From 20 feet away, at the edge of the alley, Berdel warned Deloatch several times to stop. When he didn’t, Berdel shot him in the heart, according to the Middlesex County Medical Examiner’s report. At the time of his death, heroin was found in Deloatch’s system, according to the toxicology report.
Between them, Berdel and Mazan were involved in 10 use-of-force reports in 2010 and nine internal affairs investigations throughout their careers, according to police records.
After several months on paid leave, Mazan recently returned to his post as a patrolman, but Berdel resigned rather than face departmental discipline for not being equipped with pepper spray during the incident. According to the Police Department, he has filed for state disability insurance, but city and state authorities could not comment on the status of the claim.
‘Tip of the iceberg’
Richard Rivera, chairman of the city-based Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey’s Civil Rights Protection Project, applauded the measures that have been taken by the city and the county in the wake of the shooting and the charges against Rowe. But he described them as “the tip of the iceberg” in a city that has seen two other questionable fatal police shootings in the past 20 years. Both officers involved also were cleared by grand juries but faced departmental discipline that ended or stalled their careers.
Rivera said the measures did not prevent the paralysis of Victor Rodriguez on Jan. 31. The city teen was shot five times by officers after he fired a starter pistol into the air to ward off would-be attackers. In a lawsuit against the city, Rodriguez’s family claims the shot that lodged into his spine was fired after he fell to the ground.
“The Police Department operates in secrecy, like most throughout the state,” said Rivera, who recently sued the department for failing to fulfill open records requests related to the Rodriguez shooting.
“There’s no public reporting of anything, no transparency, except the online internal affairs reports,” he continued. “You don’t have the police director doing community outreach in the ’hood about what’s been reviewed and what’s changed. We’re looking for external and impartial review of the Police Department and its interaction with the community, which could have been done by the county prosecutor and hasn’t taken place.”
“The Attorney General’s internal affairs guidelines, as well as prosecutor directives, require local law-enforcement agencies to be proactive, not simply reactive. To accomplish this task, the Prosecutor’s Office has directed all the agencies under its jurisdiction, not just the New Brunswick Police Department, that their Internal Affairs officers need to look for patterns of behavior that have the potential to develop into problematic
“To this end, and consistent with Attorney General guidelines,” he said. “The Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office requires each local Internal Affairs unit to prepare use-of-force summary reports on a quarterly and yearly basis. In so doing, potential warning signs about an officer’s use of force, such as the frequency and/or nature of the incidents, should become apparent…. Corrective measures can then be taken as the situation warrants without further escalation.”
Rivera said those steps have not been taken adequately in New Brunswick. As a result, he said, he is in the process of drafting a request for the U.S. Justice Department to investigate the city Police Department. He said he expected to submit the request by year’s end.
Salaam Ismail, executive director of the Elizabeth-based United Youth Council, asked the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Newark to investigate the grand jury decision related to the Deloatch shooting. The organization helped the families of Shaun Potts and Carolyn “Sissy” Adams, who were shot by city police in 1991 and 1996, respectively.
In the wake of the Deloatch shooting and a violence spike in 18 cities throughout the state, Ismail called on state and county authorities to declare violence a public health crisis, as the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had done from a national perspective. So far, three counties have agreed to establish a commission to study the source and impact of violence and develop a method to address it. The Middlesex freeholders declined because similar reviews already are in place, Ismail said.
“One part of the whole issue of violence is the way police respond to and prevent violence,” he said. “The bigger issue is the mentality of violence. What happens in cases of police brutality is that the police system is not sensitive when they go into communities that are sensitive to violence. They use strong-arm tactics in poor, black communities. When violence rises, so does police brutality. That’s what happened in the Barry Deloatch case and a lot of cases that have popped up in the last couple of years. Police play a major role in how we address this whole climate of violence.”
Ismail and Rivera are expected to be among the speakers at the vigil. Also expected is Tormel Pittman, who led dozens of protests against the shooting that mobilized hundreds of participants.