In a legal showdown that has attracted considerable attention, top officials from the Paterson Police Department have filed a lawsuit against New Jersey’s Attorney General Matthew Platkin.
The suit alleges that Platkin overstepped his authority by initiating a takeover of the police department in the state’s the state’s third-most-populous municipality.
The controversial state intervention came in March following a tragic incident where officers from the Paterson Police Department shot and killed 31-year-old Najee Seabrooks, a well-known crisis intervention worker.
Platkin’s move didn’t explicitly mention the Seabrooks incident but cited a “crisis of confidence in law enforcement” as the reason behind the takeover.
Under state supervision, all police functions, including internal investigations, were placed under the Attorney General’s control.
New Jersey’s constitution grants the state attorney general direct supervision of county prosecutors and police chiefs.
However, Paterson’s Police Chief and Acting Police Director have argued in a complaint filed in Passaic County Superior Court that the state’s takeover “exceeds the bounds of their statutory and constitutional authority,”
Platkin’s spokesperson, Sharon Lauchaire, dismissed the lawsuit, labeling it as “unfortunate as it is meritless.” She emphasized that the attorney general’s authority to supersede local law enforcement agencies “is well established,” and she noted that in the case of Paterson, the need to do so was evident given the city’s history.
The Attorney General’s office has been actively involved in several investigations within the city, which boasts a population of over 150,000 and is located approximately 20 miles northwest of New York City.
In February, Platkin announced an aggravated assault charge against a Paterson officer for allegedly shooting an unarmed man who was fleeing.
In December, a grand jury declined to indict Paterson police officers involved in the death of a man they had restrained two months earlier.
Though Mayor Andre Sayegh is not a plaintiff in the lawsuit, he expressed his interest in the case, called himself an “interested party,” and said his office must determine whether the attorney general’s takeover was allowed under state law.
Sayegh also said officials had been making “dramatic changes” to the department, but their implementation of “serious and meaningful change” had been interrupted by the takeover. He said he had fired one police chief, but the chief’s replacement had only a few weeks to work on the issues before he was sidelined by the state.
The takeover interrupted local efforts to improve police performance.
State officials contend that the takeover is yielding positive results, citing a significant decline in violent crime during the past summer compared to the preceding year.
The lawsuit has drawn the attention of many who are watching closely as the legal dispute unfolds, raising questions about the balance of power and responsibility between state and local authorities in overseeing law enforcement.