NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Noble Aaron El Shabazz is not one to give up on a fight. For the past four years, he has challenged a system that he says is corrupt to the core: the New Brunswick city government.
After allegedly being racially profiled and harassed twice by New Brunswick Police Department (NBPD) officers in 2010, Shabazz filed internal affairs (IA) complaints with the department.
One of those complaints was leveled against Brad Berdel, an officer who would later go on to kill an unarmed city resident named Barry Deloatch and resign from the force in disgrace.
Berdel had given money to Mayor James Cahill’s campaign fund, and was eventually exonerated by a special grand jury that was convened under the tenure of the notorious former Middlesex County Prosecutor Bruce Kaplan.
Another disgraced former NBPD officer, Sgt. Richard Rowe, failed to properly close out the investigations into Shabazz’s claims. Unlike Berdel, Rowe was criminally charged with mishandling a total of 81 investigations into his fellow officers.
Those charges came less than two weeks after the killing, and just days after a journalist published information that raised questions about the internal affairs cases brought against Berdel and his partner.
Had Shabazz’s complaints been properly investigated, Deloatch might still be alive today because they named both of the officers involved in the fatal shooting.
At every step since, it seemed that city officials deceived Shabazz and his supporters, dragging their feet, breaking their own procedures and failing to make good on their promises.
Most recently, the city’s Ethics Board threw out a complaint Shabazz filed against two attorneys hired to supervise a special “Internal Affairs Review” process created by Mayor James Cahill in the wake of the charges against Rowe.
The Ethics Board, which is supposed to investigate conduct by city employees or officers who violate the city’s code of ethics, received Shabazz’s complaint against Assistant City Attorney Charly Gayden, and a former Judge hired by the city as a “hearing officer,” Barnett Hoffman.
But they decided not to launch an investigation into the case, or hold a hearing, as they had done just months earlier in response to a complaint filed by the author of this article.
In the Shabazz case, the board reached a new low, restricting Shabazz’s public comments to three minutes and outright refusing to answer any of his questions.
The board’s silence spoke volumes as they refused to answer basic questions from this reporter and Shabazz himself.
The actions of the board were in contrast with the way they had treated the author of this article, who passes for white, in a proceeding just months earlier.
Shabazz never wanted to file an ethics complaint, but rather sought to force the City Council to reprimand the two attorneys targeted in the complaint.
But former City Attorney William Hamilton advised him he was “before the wrong body” when he tried to file the complaint with the City Council on August 20.
Nothing happened for months, and Shabazz expressed skepticism about the Ethics Board at the October meeting of the City Council.
“They’re going to determine my case is frivolous, because they’re part of the cover-up. They’re part of the conspiracy that’s been going on,” Shabazz said.
“Internal affairs covers for police, the independent hearing officer covers for internal affairs, and now the Ethics Board is going to continue to cover,” Shabazz said. “This is the pattern and practice that’s been demonstrated.”
As we have reported, the New Brunswick Ethics Board often fails to follow their own rules.
This case was no different, as it appears the board violated part III, section A-3 under their “operating procedures.”
That item states, “Upon receipt of the complaint the Chair shall assign the complaint to a sub-committee of two members of the board to evaluate the complaint and report their recommendation to the full Board and Board Counsel at an executive session not open to the public within thirty (30) days of receipt of the complaint.”
It’s unclear if the board ever created a sub-committee to examine the complaint. If they did, it was not mentioned at the ethics meeting.
Moreover, it took well over six months for the board to do anything at all with Shabazz’s complaint. There was no explanation or apology for the delay.
In the recent ethics case sparked by the author of this article, the Ethics Board violated many of its own rules. But they did create a special subcommittee to investigate the claim, and ultimately ruled it deserved a full hearing with sworn testimony from witnesses and evidence that lasted more than 90 minutes.
There were several other meetings dealing with the matter, and at each one, board members appeared to answer questions to the best of their ability and made no restrictions on public comment.
They also gave the author of this article nearly a half-hour of time to speak during their meeting’s public comment period.
But in the case of Shabazz v. Gayden/Hoffman, the board did not identify if any of its members were part of a sub-committee evaluating the complaint, and instead met behind closed doors for less than half-hour before deciding it did not have jurisdiction to pursue the case.
After the board refused to answer his questions, Shabazz called the board “crooks” and said they were just another “corrupt agency” whose intent was to cover up corruption rather than root it out.
COMMUNITY LIASON A LIGHTNING ROD FOR CRITICISM
Shabazz’s complaint named two lawyers, Charly Gayden and Barnett Hoffman, both of whom were hired by Cahill and the City Council to implement a unique appeal process to challenge decisions made by the NBPD’s internal affairs unit.
Shabazz became the first to utilize the new process since it was created in the wake of the charges against Sgt. Rowe and the killing of Deloatch.
A cornerstone of integrity for any police department, internal affairs is supposed to impartially investigate complaints of officer misbehavior, but Rowe was charged criminally for failing to do that job.
The review process was open to anyone who felt their IA complaints were not properly investigated during Rowe’s tenure, or anyone who had declined to file a complaint because they did not have confidence in NBPD Internal Affairs.
Critics said that a special process was “an excercise in futility” and “intentionally sabotaged from the start.”
It called for a “community liason” to facilitate hearings regarding internal affairs complaints.
But when the city announced its choice for the $30,000/year liason job, an Assistant City Attorney who works for New Brunswick’s government and doesn’t live in the city, many reacted with skepticism.
Gayden, whose brother is also a city police officer, has since come under fire for her handling of Shabazz’s case and a subsequent case involving a man named Timothy McDougald, who said one of the same officers Shabazz complained about had planted drugs on him.
Shabazz complained that it took more than two years for him to finally get a hearing and several more months to get a ruling in his case.
Both men complained that Gayden was clearly adversarial, and failed to ensure the hearings were recorded in accordance with the new protocols.
Mayor Cahill emphasized to New Brunswick Today that, “The community liaison person is not an advocate for either police or for the person who is alleging abuse on the part of the police department.”
If Gayden is not to advocate for the rights of the people of New Brunswick, what does her position entail?
“It is a person who is to serve, as the name suggests, as a liaison between the police and the community, and it is to facilitate an individual’s ability to have a hearing at which they can express what their concerns are, and that if appropriate, to get it back to the police department for the police department, which is the only agency that can conduct a true internal investigation, to take additional action if and when appropriate,” said Cahill.
“That’s the purpose of it.”
Mayor Cahill has been well aware of Shabazz’s complaints as they have gone through the new internal affairs process he created.
“The process has been long and tedious, but it is one that didn’t exist before. So it’s one in which people are finding their way through the process,” said Cahill. “I trust that it will be resolved in the not-too-distant future,” said Cahill.
Still, Shabazz and others have accused Gayden of a major, inherent conflict of interest because she also works for the city’s Law Department, whose interests are often in conflict with those making accusations against city workers.
“She’s clearly acting as a city attorney… trying to get information out of me,” Shabazz said of their meetings as part of the internal affairs review process. At the same time, Gayden was communicating with an attorney fighting Shabazz’s federal lawsuit against the city.
Shabazz says that Gayden attempted to disuade him not to pursue an internal affairs review, citing his pending civil rights lawsuit.
Gayden took two years to schedule Shabazz’s internal affairs review hearing, ignoring written communication from him and eventually forcing former City Council President Rebecca Escobar to publicly apologize to Shabazz.
“I knew that you have done what we asked you to do. I thank you for your patience,” said Escobar at a City Council meeting.
“I apologize… for the lateness. It’s unacceptable. I just want you to know that.”
On February 20, 2013, Gayden admitted she was in the wrong and apologized as well.
“I take full responsibility for not getting back to you and I apologize for that,” said Gayden.
Eight months later, Shabazz finally had his hearing, which combined both of his internal affairs complaints into one massive case. The hearing was held in Gayden’s private law office, and while New Brunswick Today was present, we were not permitted to take photographs.
Neither Shabazz’s nor McDougald’s hearings were properly documented, a common problem with corrupt entities that do not wish to preserve records of misconduct allegations.
Gayden violated the internal affairs review protocols, which require the city to make an audio recording of the hearing and present it to the NBPD’s Director.
As time went on, the patience of Shabazz, McDouglad, and their supporters wore thin.
At a council meeting on July 16, 2014, Shabazz’s wife, Khalifa El Shabazz, got in a heated back-and-forth with Gayden after calling for her removal from the liason position.
“Internal affairs did not do their job, that’s it,” said Khalifa El Shabazz, referring to the McDougald case. “Therefore, they were negligent.”
“That’s what you want us to say?” asked Gayden rhetorically.
“I don’t want you to say anything, I want you to do what’s right!” Khalifa El Shabazz responded. “If you want me to tell you what I want you to say, I want you to say that you are a bunch of incompetent, wicked people that would do anything to destroy the people,” Khalifa El Shabazz said, garnering applause from the crowd.
Seconds later, Gayden stormed out of the Council Chambers, slamming the door behind herself.
GAYDEN INVESTIGATED COMPLAINANT, NOT OFFICERS
The latest bombshell in Shabazz’s case came last week when Shabazz produced a confidential memo written from Gayden to City Council members that indicated IA investigators dug up dirt on Shabazz.
“Mr. Shabazz was noted as having a criminal history that spans from December 1988 through 1991, which includes three felony convictions, two of which were noted as cocaine possession with aggregate sentences of 14 and four years, respectively,” Gayden wrote in the confidential memo, citing an internal affairs report.
Shabazz says it proves what he has long believed: that crooked police officers and dishonest city lawyers often investigate those who file complaints, rather than those the complaints are filed against.
Moreover, the 46-year-old emphasizes that his so-called “criminal history” is from more than two decades ago, when he was a poor teenager, and that it has no relevance to his 2010 complaints against the NBPD officers.
Gayden’s memo included no information about the prior history of the officers who were accused.
As New Brunswick Patch reported, Berdel had been investigated by Internal Affairs seven times between 2006 and 2011:
Police Officer Brad Berdel was investigated by Internal Affairs seven times starting in 2006, while Daniel Mazan was investigated twice in 2010, the records show.
One of the investigations involved allegations of “excessive force’’ in a complaint filed by a city woman against Berdel in July 2009. The records say the accusation was “not sustained.’’
Four of the other investigations were for “demeanor,” while the rest were for differential treatment, improper search, a rule violation and “other criminal.”
The records show the two officers were cleared in five of the nine cases. In the other four instances, the Internal Affairs documents show no outcome or say the inquiry is pending…
“I find the open cases very troubling,’’ said Richard Rivera, a former West New York police officer who heads the civil rights committee of the Latino Leadership Alliance, an advocacy group that has called for the Deloatch case to be heard by a grand jury…
In many New Jersey cities, Rivera said, internal affairs complaints take far too long to be resolved. Rivera faulted New Brunswick for not moving more quickly to investigate allegations against its police officers.
“Maybe the death of Barry Deloatch could have been prevented,’’ he said.
For his part, City Council President Kevin Egan said he had not seen the memo prior to Monday, March 30. It is dated February 4, 2014.
“The first time I saw this document was Monday for me,” said Egan.
The city’s new Law Director, TK Shamy, also claimed to have never seen the memo before. Shamy said that he was leading an investigation into where the document came from.
“Quite frankly this particular document… is being investigated by the administration and we have not concluded that investigation. So, I don’t really want the Council to discuss this,” Shamy said.
“I never saw this document… until it was attached to Mr. Shabazz’s complaint,” said Shamy. “I don’t know exactly how Mr. Shabazz got this particular document, but we’re going to find out.”
While no one admitted to seeing the document prior to Shabazz’s revelation, New Brunswick Today has reason to believe it is authentic.
Shamy interjected at the April 1 City Council meeting, before former City Attorney William Hamilton, who was replaced by Shamy in January but stayed on the city payroll as “special counsel,” could answer whether or not he saw the document.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate that Mr. Hamilton answer any questions about it, because he has allegations against him of unethical conduct,” said Shamy, referring to a newly-filed complaint made by Shabazz.
Gayden was not present at the meeting.
“We’re going to investigate the whole thing and we’ll have answers hopefully at the next meeting,” said Council President Egan.
DEFENDANT HAS CLOSE TIES TO ETHICS BOARD ATTORNEYS
The Internal Affairs Review process also called for a “hearing officer,” who would be paid to investigate the claims and determine whether NBPD internal affairs ought to open, or re-open, a given case.
But, after saying he would begin working on a ruling within ten business days, it took three months for Hoffman to release his opinion, which ultimately proved to be a cop-out.
Hoffman said Berdel’s sworn testimony was “troubling” and in conflict with other records, but also ruled that the case should not be re-opened because Berdel no longer worked for the city.
At first the hearing officer job went to Judson Hamlin, another retired judge and close ally of Mayor Cahill. But, by the time Gayden was finally done stalling and ready to move ahead with a hearing, Hamlin wanted out.
Hamlin, of Keefe Bartels, a law firm run by former partners of notorious political boss John Lynch, “asked to step down as the hearing officer,” according to former city attorney Bill Hamilton. He quit the hearing officer job after presiding over zero hearings, and was not paid.
The City Council then approved Hoffman as the new “hearing officer,” which pays $12,500 per year. Hoffman was a partner in the firm Borrus, Goldin, Vignuolo, Hyman, & Stahl PC at the time.
Hoffman left the firm last year and joined a new firm: Lomurro, Munson, Comer, Brown, and Schottland.
Anthony Vignuolo, one of his law partners at the old firm, represented the New Brunswick Ethics Board as recently as last month.
New Brunswick Today asked why Vignuolo wasn’t asked to represent the board in the new case, and it took several rounds of questioning before the conflict of interest was revealed.
“I think Mr. Vignuolo’s going away,” said City Council President Kevin Egan at first.
“Mr. Vignuolo doesn’t have availability at the time to handle the matter, and we elected to engage Mr. [James] Clarkin so as not to delay the matter any further,” responded City Attorney TK Shamy.
“It doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that Mr. Vignuolo is a former law partner with one of the… defendants?” asked the author of this article.
“That is also true. They don’t work together now, but that would be a potential conflict,” said Shamy, clearly taken off guard by the question. “We could have gone forth but for the conflict, but the availability issue is paramount as well. So there’s two reasons I guess.”
Shamy explained that James Clarkin would represent the board in the matter brought against Gayden and Hoffman. Clarkin is law partners with Peter Vignuolo, whose father is Anthony Vignuolo.
“It’s his son… There’s no conflict there,” said Shamy.
Shabazz says that Hoffman failed to deliver justice in his case, and engaged in unethical and dishonest conduct in the process.
In the stunning nine-page decision, Hoffman ruled against Shabazz, opting not to re-open the case while still acknowledging that Berdel was “an evasive witness” who made “inconsistent statements” that were “in conflict with the dispatch records.”
Hoffman’s justification, explained in the last paragraph of the nine-page decision, said any complaints against Berdel were “moot” because Berdel was “no longer employed by the city.”
“So Berdel is the sacrificial lamb they offered to me for the sins of all of the guilty police,” Shabazz told NBToday, adding that Berdel did not act alone but rather in concert with several other officers.
Hoffman’s decision that Berdel’s apparent misconduct was “moot” in the first-ever internal affairs appeal since the review process was created left many citizens less than confident in the new system.
“It took three long months of stalling and legal brain-storming for a whole gang of professional attorneys to figure out how to finally do what we had been anticipated they would do from the very beginning,” Shabazz told New Brunswick Today.
“Hearing Officer Barnett Hoffman made ‘illogical’ conclusions to try and justify his decision not to recommend I.A. re-open the investigations into either one of my two complaints.”
“It is a nine page report of legal double-talk, inaccuracies, and deliberate ignoring of evidence and or the most logical conclusions based on the facts in evidence presented at the hearing which include the totality of circumstances.”
A UNIQUE INDIVIDUAL WHO FIGHTS FOR HIS RIGHTS
On May 4, 2010, and then again on July 9, 2010, Shabazz says he was the victim of racial profiling and unjust arrest by the New Brunswick Police Department.
Most people who feel they have been wrongly arrested or charged by police, along with many who just feel they were treated unfairly, never file a formal complaint with the police department.
Public records show that, as of February, there were 34 pending IA complaints against officers in the NBPD.
But Shabazz is not most people. He filed complaints in writing about each incident and sent them to NBPD via certified mail.
After Deloatch was killed by one of the officers whom he had a pending complaint against, Shabazz began to speak out at New Brunswick City Council meetings.
He also filed complaints with the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office to no avail, filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court, and became the first person to challenge an internal affairs case using the new system.
In recent years, he has submitted ethics complaints against three different city officials for their handling of the matters.
Shabazz has now also secured the services Newark-based attorney Nathaniel Davis to help fight his federal case, where he is suing the city for damages that resulted from a wrongful arrest, and other harassment.
Shabazz is a Moorish American, a group that traces its lineage “back to ancient moors that built noble civilizations, kingdoms, Empires from Africa to Spain to the Americas.”
The Moorish Divine and National Movement was founded in 1913 in Newark, and it has evolved into an organization that helps educate its members about their rights.
“The Moorish Movement has a host of grass roots outreach-arms and institutions,” said Shabazz. “The chief objective is to better the condition of those so-called Black people, Colored folks, Negroes, African-Americans, etc.”
The movement is defined by five “Divine Principles,” namely Love, Truth, Peace, Freedom and Justice.
He regularly attends sessions with “Moorish brothers” to study the law, and how to challenge false charges, illegal searches, and other violations of a person’s civil rights.
“Moors are not anti-government but are anti-police-state and we are not anti-white but are anti-white-supremacy as these things are oppressive and unjust,” explains Shabazz.
“It’s also intended to provide so-called Black people with a sense of national identity in the Western Hemisphere because in law no human is properly identified with a ‘color’ but with a ‘nationality’ that connects one to his or her decent, heritage and history.”
Shabazz’s story was strong enough that a journalist with New Brunswick Patch profiled his efforts to challenge the system on April 2, 2012, three years to the day before the Ethics Board threw out his complaint.
“He says that several branches of both city and county government have been slow to respond to his requests for information and assistance, or have ignored them altogether,” wrote Jennifer Bradshaw, who is now a spokesperson for the city’s seven-term Mayor.
“To date, he says he has not received notification from the police department as to whether the internal affairs complaints that he filed against Berdel, Mazan, Gregus and Chiang have been closed, nearly two years later,” wrote Bradshaw.
Shabazz had worked as a Youth Worker and Counselor for the Juvenile Justice Commission from 1999 to 2009, when he was laid off.
Now, he says he has had a tough time finding good work because of the false charges filed by New Brunswick police.
“Officer Brad Berdel cannot be trusted, that’s why you got rid of him,” Shabazz told the City Council on December 31. “But he’s still gotta pay for what he did, and I’m not letting it go. And Officer Gregus and Officer Mazan, they crooked and they gotta pay for what they did.”
“I used to be a unit supervisor for one of the top juvenile justice programs in the state,” Shabazz said passionately. “Now because I went through all of that… Now, I’m having problems.”
“For ten years straight, I had a stirling career. Now all of a sudden I’m having problems? And it only started after I was falsely arrested?”
“Justice needs to be done and I’m going to keep pursuing it by any means necessary,” said Shabazz. “I’m never going to stop because I’m right. The truth is on my side.”
Last year, Shabazz’s son was arrested and jailed for five months on charges that were later dismissed. But even that incident has not weakened his resolve.
The father says that his son was also threatened by a racist police officer who Aaron El Shabazz has had run-ins with in the past, Detective Brandt Gregus.
IT ALL STARTED WITH A TRAFFIC STOP
On May 4, 2010, Shabazz was on his way back from a visit to Virginia, when a traffic stop by NBPD resulted in his arrest on obstruction charges, and his car being searched and towed.
The incident began at approximately 10:30pm, when Shabazz turned into the parking lot of the McDonald’s on Route 27, and was pulled over by a police vehicle.
In the parking lot, officer Daniel Mazan approached Shabazz’s window and requested license, registration, and proof of insurance.
Mazan was partnered up with Berdel on the night when Berdel shot and killed Barry Deloatch. Unlike Berdel, he remains on the force today.
In response to Mazan’s request for documents, Shabazz partially rolled down his window, and held the documents toward the officer.
Mazan refused to take the documents, instead asking why Shabazz would not roll his window down all the way.
Knowing the law and his rights under it, Shabazz informed the officer that there was no law requiring him to roll his window down entirely, while continuing to hold his documents out of the partially-opened window.
According to state and federal law, police officers have the right to order a passenger out of the car if they have an awareness of danger. Rolling down the window all the way, while not a law, is a way for police to better assess possible threats.
A report from Shabazz’s hearing, written by hearing officer Barnett Hoffman, states: “A review [of the law] will not disclose any requirement that the driver producing credentials roll the window down all the way. However, many things become law that are not explicitly set forth in the statutory law.”
After Shabazz explained to Officer Mazan that he was not compelled by law to roll his window down, Mazan’s partner, Officer Brandt Gregus approached the passenger side of the car and yelled for Shabazz to open the passenger side window.
When Shabazz asked what cause Officer Gregus had to want him to roll down that window, Gregus responded, “Because I said so.”
The officers continued to antagonize Shabazz, and all the while he continued to hold his documents out the window, waiting for Officer Mazan to accept them, until Officer Gregus opened the passenger side door and proceeded to ruffle through Shabazz’s glove compartment and underneath the passenger seat.
At this point, Shabazz informed Officer Gregus that his personal rights were being violated, as he never agreed to let the officers search his private property, and they did not have a warrant.
Officer Gregus insisted that Shabazz didn’t know what he was talking about.
The hearing report notes that both officers deny searching the car. Hearing officer Hoffman wrote: “I am not in the position to decide whether or not the search took place.”
Shabazz requested both officers’ name and badge number, but neither officer was forthcoming, and instead they accused him of being “a hard-ass.”
Shabazz then asked the officers why he had been pulled over. Officer Mazan informed him that it was because he had been talking on a cell phone while he drove.
That, Shabazz insisted, was not true, but Officer Gregus yelled, “See, you are busted! We saw you with the phone up to your ear!
Although he says the officers were mistaken, Shabazz told them, “If that’s the only reason you’re pulling me over, just issue me the ticket and let me go free.”
Shabazz said he may have looked at his phone to check the time, but was not using the phone for any other purpose.
Mazan finally took the documents from his hands, but Gregus yelled, “Now you will get two tickets!”
Shabazz says he could see that Gregus was agitated and vindictive, and said, “Fine, whatever officer, now just give me the tickets and let me go free, and I will deal with this in court.”
The officers returned to their vehicle, ran a background check, and came up with the name Lamont Sterling as being associated with Shabazz’s social security number.
Upon returning to Shabazz’s vehicle, Officer Mazan asked, “Who is Lamont Sterling?”
Shabazz insisted that, because he had provided all the necessary documents to clear his alleged traffic violation, he should not be being questioned about another person.
At that point, Officer Mazan accused Shabazz of having used the name Lamont Sterling in the past. Shabazz insisted he had never used that name.
Officer Gregus threatened, “If you do not answer the question, we will arrest you for obstruction of justice.”
Shabazz explained that he was simply asserting his rights, and then asked if he was being detained or if he was free to go.
Gregus said, “Yes, you are being detained,” supposedly as part of the officers’ investigation.
After more antagonizing language from Gregus, he informed Shabazz that he was under arrest, while Mazan opened the driver’s side door. One of the officers cuffed Shabazz, while the other conducted a more thorough search of the vehicle, including the trunk, without Shabazz’s consent.
Another police officer appeared on the scene and assisted the search through the car, said Shabazz.
Shabazz told the officers, “This is the reason I do not like this unjust system—because of officers like you who racially profile and harass innocent people.”
Then Shabazz was taken to the back of the police vehicle, and while Mazan and Gregus drove him to the police station, the following conversation occurred, according to Shabazz’s court filings. It should be noted that they never read Shabazz his Miranda rights.
GREGUS: Why is he being such a hard ass?
SHABAZZ: I am not being a hard ass, I am only asserting my rights, and I will deal with this in court.
GREGUS: I haven’t seen my boys from IA [Internal Affairs] in a while, so it will be nice to see my boys again. You can’t really believe that crap you said about us harassing you and the system being unjust!
SHABAZZ: Yes, sir, I do believe it.
GREGUS: If you really believe that crap, then you are a racist! Come on, you can’t really believe that crap?
SHABAZZ: Yes, sir, I do believe it.
GREGUS: Then you are definitely a racist.
SHABAZZ: The feeling is mutual, sir.
GREGUS: Oh, so now I’m a racist, huh? How am I the racist when you are the one who believes that all white officers harass you only because you are black?
SHABAZZ: I never said anything about all white officers, I only commented on you two who are harassing me now.
GREGUS: Yeah, whatever, you are a racist and everything you have said so far shows me your are a fool!
SHABAZZ: The feeling is mutual, sir.
GREGUS: No, for real, you sound so childish you remind me of my five year old nephew!
SHABAZZ: The feeling is mutual, sir.
GREGUS: Do you even have a five year old nephew?
SHABAZZ: I have many nephews, sir.
GREGUS: You are even worse than my five year old nephew because you are not only childish, but you are ignorant. I can’t wait to show up for court just to show you how big a fool you are, and if you really believe you know your rights, then you should show up for court without a lawyer and defend yourself, but you won’t do that because you know you will sound like a fool.
SHABAZZ: The feeling is mutual, sir.
GREGUS: How come you don’t have your own thoughts? All you have been doing is taking my words and thoughts and repeating them, but why can’t you think for yourself and come up with some original ideas?
SHABAZZ: Whatever little I have said are my own thoughts, I just happen to concur with some of your thoughts in my own way.
GREGUS: Wow, concur, he used a big word! Oh, and I guess because I’m surprised that you know how to use big words, that makes me a racist too, huh?
SHABAZZ: Yes sir, that is clear proof that you are racist.
At this point the vehicle arrived at the police station, and the officers placed Shabazz in a holding cell.
Shabazz has said that he suspected when Officer Gregus accused him of being ignorant, and talked down to him, it was an example of Gregus’ subtly-masked racism.
Hoffman’s hearing report has this to say on the topic: “There is nothing in any of the documents that I received, nor in the testimony of Mr. Shabazz that in any way would indicate that he was racially profiled, or that racial slurs were made.”
Shabazz was released few hours later, the officers released Shabazz with one summons for obstruction of justice, one ticket for talking with a cell phone, one ticket for obstructed plates, and one ticket for careless driving.
In addition, the officers had Shabazz’s vehicle towed from the McDonalds parking lot, making it necessary for him to walk home (it was approximately 1:00am now) and pay a $180 to recover the vehicle.
As a result, Shabazz suffered significant emotional distress, aggravation, and inconvenience.
Noble Aaron Shabazz proceeded to file complaints against officers Mazan and Gregus in the New Brunswick Internal Affairs unit.
His case made it to court after over seven months on December 14, 2010.
At the trial, Officer Gregus made certain claims under oath that don’t jive with Shabazz’s story. Gregus said that during the initial conversation in the McDonald’s parking lot, Shabazz handed his documents to Officer Mazan and then rolled his window up completely, refusing to roll it down again even to take his documents back.
He also claimed that Shabazz informed the officers that Lamont Sterling is his cousin, though that is not true and Shabazz never said so.
Gregus also denied that there was any conversation in the car after the arrest. However, he did not deny making racial remarks, choosing instead to say, “I do not recall.”
Before Shabazz could cross-examine the Officer Mazan, who had been sequestered, Judge Borow suspiciously adjourned the trial and rescheduled the remiander for March 30, 2011.
On that date, Officer Mazan claimed that Shabazz initially refused to roll his window down at all, that Lamont Sterling was Shabazz’s cousin, and that he did not recall whether Shabazz admitted to using Sterling as an alias or not.
The violations Shabazz was accused of by the police were not detailed in the narrative section of the officers’ report provided to Shabazz, raising questions about whether the officers had properly documented the incident.
At the March 30 trial, municipal Judge Philip Borow encouraged Shabazz to proceed with a second trial involving another incident with the New Brunswick police. But he still had not rendered a decision in the first case.
After several complaint letters were sent, and Shabazz made a visit to the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office, Judge Borow finally set a date for a hearing to render his decision: November 9, 2011
At the hearing, Borow ruled that Shabazz was not guilty of talking on his cell phone while driving, and not guilty of criminal obstruction, but found him guilty of careless driving, obstructed plates, and failure to inspect.
Because the court had failed to prove the charges of which Shabazz had been found guilty, by all accounts the verdict should have been not guilty.
His total fines for the collected charges were $518.00, plus a $23.00 court charge.
But Shabazz, who survives off unemployment and occasional temp-jobs since losing his Youth Counselor job, was indigent—he didn’t have enough to pay the municipal charges.
In spite of a two-month campaign at the Middlesex County Court, during which Shabazz explained the various ways in which his rights had been infringed, Judge Nieves refused to waive the court fees.
The hearing report states, “I think that with regard to the May 4, 2010 motor vehicle stop at the McDonald’s, Mr. Shabazz’s complaints to Internal Affairs were properly investigated, and except as noted no further investigation need be made.”
TWO MONTHS LATER, MORE POLICE HARRASSMENT
Shabazz also claims to have been the victim of an illegal search, and more false charges during a second incident that occurred on July 9, 2010 at 1:15AM.
Shabazz says he was harassed and violated again while dropping off a friend at the Howard Johnson’s hotel on Route 1.
Shabazz and his friend, Lord Justice Supreme El, were on their way back home from an evening studying their rights when Shabazz pulled into the parking lot of the hotel where Supreme El was staying.
Shabazz came to a complete stop in order to exchange some paperwork and goodbyes with his friend.
A vehicle soon pulled up behind Shabazz, causing him to move his car into a parking space.
In the middle of this, emergency lights flared to life from the vehicle behind him, and as he was being pulled over, he immediately parked the car.
Officer Berdel approached the driver’s side window and asked for license, registration, and insurance.
Shabazz handed the officer each document, stating its name each time: “License. Registration. And insurance.”
At that, Officer Berdel appeared to grow agitated, and he stated, “Don’t be disrespectful. I already know what I asked you for so don’t try to be smart by saying license!”
Berdel then asked Shabazz what were the contents of a plastic bag in his car.
Although Shabazz understood that no law compelled him to answer any questions not related to whatever the violation was for which he’d been pulled over, he answered, telling Berdel that it was cheesecake.
Berdel’s partner, officer Rodney Chiang, approached the passenger’s window and demanded to see the passenger’s identification.
Lord Justice Supreme El asked Chiag why the car had been pulled over, to which Chiang replied, “We don’t have to tell you that because you are not the driver.”
Shabazz asked Berdel the same question, and Berdel stated, “For impeding the flow of traffic.”
The hotel parking lot is large, and Shabazz says there were no other traffi besides his own vehicle and the police, leaving plenty of room to pass.
Shabazz asked, “How was I impeding the flow of traffic when I was clearly moving and in the process of parking until you forced me to stop?”
Officer Berdel ignored the question, but said, “Oh, your inspection sticker is expired,” before returning to the police vehicle.
Instead of returning with tickets for a traffic violation, three additional patrol vehicles arrived at the scene, and several more police officers including Mazan surrounded Shabazz’s car.
Berdel again approached Shabazz’s car, pulled open the driver’s side door, aggressively pulled Shabazz himself out, and pushed him against the trunk of the car, spread his feet, and ordered him not to look at Berdel.
Berdel then search Shabazz’s pockets without consent and certainly without probably cause or suspicion that any crime had been committed.
With what Shabazz describes as “physical menace,” he was then ordered to sit cross-legged on a nearby cement block while five to eight police officers surrounded him.
Officer Chiang then repeated all of that process with Lord Justice Supreme El, first pulling him out of the car, then searching him, then forcing him to sit.
The two men sat there for approximately thirty minutes.
Shabazz said he suspected it was payback for the previous incident, and purposeful intimidation intended to dissuade him from filing additional complaints with internal affairs.
Officers Berdel and Chiang carried out a search without a warrant or probable cause, Shabazz says.
However, their search brought forth no evidence they could use to charge either man with an actual crime, and instead they simply gave Shabazz a ticket for failure to inspect.
At they same time, however, they arrested Lord Justice Supreme El and placed him inside their police vehicle.
When Shabazz asked why his friend was being arrested, both officers refused to answer the question.
Berdel stated: “That’s not your concern. Now leave.”
“He won’t be getting bail, he’ll be released in an hour,” Chiang added.
Lord Justice Supreme El was released from police custody two hours later, and Shabazz was present to pick him up.
Shabazz has also attempted to get traction with this incident at court, apparently succeeding in catching at least one officer in a lie under oath.
In trial on March 30, 2011, Officer Berdel testified that he and his partner, Chiang, never called for back up.
But police radio transmissions between dispatchers and officers prove otherwise: Chiang calls for backup immediately after returning to his police vehicle, and another unit responds that he will make for the hotel.
Several minutes later, on the audio recording, two more units respond that they’re on their way before Chiang calls that no further assistance was needed.
Officer Chiang failed to make an appearance at the trial.
New Brunswick Judge Philip Borow requested time to review his notes prior to making a decision.
A month later, Shabazz was informed by city clerk Daniel A. Torrisi that Borrow would need to deliberate for at least thirty more days.
Many months passed without news of Borows’s decision. Eventually, Shabazz was found guilty of failure to inspect without any additional testimony from officers.
Shabazz said that Hoffman’s ruling in the internal affairs review attempted to justify an illegal search of his vehicle, “due to the prescription pills my friend had in his personal carry bag and officer Chiangs alleged claim to have seen my friend hiding the prescription bottle behind his back and it’s a high crime/drug area.”
“Note the pills were not narcotics but were for high blood pressure,” said Shabazz.
It’s unclear what happened to his friend’s case.
“Also, nowhere did Berdel even admit there was a search. He denied it ever happened. Nor did Chiang or the multiple officers who arrived at the scene give any statement about a search, so it is ‘illogical’ for Hoffman to reach such a conclusion based on facts not even in evidence,” said Shabazz.
“The other officers would first need to be interviewed and thoroughly questioned about all these discrepancies and first ‘admit’ to even searching me in order for Hoffman to make any conclusions justifying the search as legal.”