What to Know
- A review by the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office found the actions of the Perth Amboy Police Department justified in the arrest of a teen on April 17
- A roughly one-minute video clip showing police officers handcuffing the young Black male and confiscating his and others’ bicycles drew angry comments about policing online
- The review determined the group of teens riding through town were acting in a manner dangerous to themselves and others, and the officers' response in this incident was necessary
Police in New Jersey were justified in their arrest of a Black teen and their decision to confiscate his and others' bicycles in an April incident that went viral and drew angry comments online about policing, a review ordered by the state concluded.
The Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office on Friday released a review of the actions of the Perth Amboy Police Department on April 17 and found that the group of youths was behaving in a manner dangerous to themselves and others, and the officers' response in this incident was necessary.
"The actions of the Perth Amboy Police Department were justified under the circumstances presented. The officers would have been in dereliction of their duties if they had acted otherwise," the review concluded.
Gov. Phil Murphy and the Office of the Attorney General ordered a review of the incident after a roughly one-minute video clip posted online drew national attention, gaining millions of views and sparking accusations wrongdoing by the responding officers.
The short clip -- posted to TikTok, Twitter and Instagram -- shows officers ordering the riders to dismount their bikes, amid crosstalk. The officers then handcuff the young Black male. Officers then lead him to the police SUV and place him in the back.
The was posted along with the comment: “We can't even ride bikes now... I'm not surprised. I'm just angry.”
A second video, 17 minutes in length and posted to YouTube by the same person who filmed the shorter clip, shows more than a dozen young riders, which included people of different races, at times weaving in and out of traffic on their bikes and riding on the wrong side of the road. The footage, which is edited, shows riders popping wheelies, chatting, stopping to buy a 24-pack of bottled water and jumping off steps on their bikes. They also at times cross over the double yellow line into traffic and veer close to cars, appearing to graze them.
Police cars drive along side the group and the bicyclists sought to evade them by riding into a park or turning down other streets, footage shows.
About 8 minutes into the clip, the voice of an officer in a police vehicle is heard on a megaphone telling the group to stop. The group, which at that point was at least five people, including the person who ends up getting handcuffed, stopped.
A white officer approaches them and tells them that in Perth Amboy, they're required to have licenses for their bikes. A city ordinance requires a tag to operate a bike on city streets.
Middlesex County Prosecutor Yolanda Ciccone said her office examined all information relating to the arrest incident, including video footage, community complaints, police reports and officer interviews.
"The Prosecutor concludes the members of the Perth Amboy Police Department acted within their lawful authority by stopping the youths on bicycles because they were engaging in dangerous conduct that created a risk of injury to motorists, pedestrians, and the youths themselves. The community caretaking role of the police extends to protecting the welfare of children in the community," the review said.
"In this case, members of the Perth Amboy law enforcement community were duty-bound to act immediately to prevent harm to the youths involved as well as members of the community," the review found.
Ciccone's review also concludes that there was no indication or suggestion that the Perth Amboy police used excessive force, nor was their response racially motivated. Moreover, the review states that the responding officers "used great restraint" by not issuing summonses.
"In fact, the videos reviewed depicted a recurring pattern of reckless behavior on bicycles and evasive interaction with law enforcement attempting to enforce the law," according to the review, which says the police department had dispatched officers to 33 calls between an 11-month period for groups of juveniles riding recklessly on city streets.
In 13 of those incidents, the review says police were able to locate the group and issue appropriate warnings but six other incidents resulted in escalated action.
Prior to the teen's arrest on April 17, four other calls had been made regarding groups of juveniles riding hazardously through Perth Amboy, the report said. Contact was made between police and the young riders in each case and the latter was issued warnings to cease any reckless behavior.
"The police response on the day in question was the culmination of an effort by members of law enforcement to deescalate the situation and issue verbal warnings to the youth involved. Those efforts were unsuccessful, and, without viable alternatives, a decision was made to enforce the city ordinance to ensure the safety of the juvenile bicyclists and the citizens of the City of Perth Amboy," the review said.
The young male arrested on the day had his complaint diverted from the system and was the subject of a Station House Adjustment (SHA), a diversion counseling program which results in the complaint being dismissed upon successful completion, the review stated.
The Perth Amboy Police Department diverted 95 juveniles to the city's SHA program in 2019, 21 in 2020 and 11 so far this year.