NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—The name Diahlo Grant is still ringing out across the New Brunswick and Franklin communities, more than three months after his death at the hands of police officers.
Grant’s family members, local community leaders, and other concerned residents took to the streets twice in July to raise awareness about the case.
The notoriously secretive Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office (MCPO), and its controversial leader Andrew Carey, are in charge of investigating Grant’s death.
But the agency hasn’t issued any statements beyond the eleven sentences they released the morning after the killing.
Carey, the county’s top cop since 2013, initially characterized the April 9 slaying as taking place during “an exchange of gunfire,” without saying who shot first, how many times Grant was shot, or why police chased him in the first place.
According to NJ.com’s Dave Hutchinson, the two Franklin Township Police Department (FTPD) officers involved were back to active duty as of May 24. Carey’s office has not released any public statements about the killing since the day it happened.
Grant, a 27-year-old native of Jamaica, was a father of six with a seventh child on the way, when his life was cut short by the unidentified officers.
“They’re saying it’s a shootout situation, but me knowing my brother, I don’t see why he would put himself on a suicide mission,” said Camille O’Sullivan, Grant’s sister.
The protesters did not claim to know exactly what happened on the night that Grant was killed, but they said they wanted to see the evidence that the MCPO has uncovered, including surveillance videos, police photographs, and witness statements.
Perhaps most of all, community members want to know which officers were involved.
Since April 16, the Franklin Reporter & Advocate, an online newspaper in the township, has been calling on Carey to “end the silence.”
“Questions about the investigation – especially why it is taking so long – have gone unanswered by Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew C. Carey, whose agency is handling the inquiry. To put it bluntly, that’s just wrong,” wrote the paper in an editorial.
“The lack of information does no one any good,” concluded Editor Bill Bowman.
In New Jersey, when a person is killed by state or county police it is investigated by the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office.
But, when local police kill someone, it is the county prosecutor who has jurisidiction over the investigation, unless and until higher authorities step in.
The run-in with police that ended Grant’s life began in Somerset County, but the killing occurred on the other side of the county line, putting the case under Carey’s oversight.
When Carey was approached by New Brunswick Today on June 16, and asked about the case, he literally remained silent, and then summoned police officers nearby to avoid being asked further questions.
As we previously reported, Carey’s office has twice removed NBToday from its media list over our coverage, and also asked the county’s Board of Chosen Freeholders to keep it a secret what MCPO officers are attending trainings on the public dime.
The day before Grant was killed, Carey filed a financial disclosure statement that omitted the fact that his wife works for a politically-connected law firm, where she represents the Midlesex Borough Planning Board.
Grant was laid to rest on April 25 following a funeral service at “First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens,” a house of worship led by Reverend DeForest “Buster” Soaries, a former NJ Secretary of State.
Soaries had previously praised police transparency regarding the handling of the Grant Case, but later gave the street protests his “blessing.”
Before taking to the streets, the family held a candlelight vigil and attempted to work within the system to obtain answers.
On April 16, Soaries was quoted as saying: “The kind of restraint that exists today in Franklin in response to this type of incident as opposed to other parts of the country is largely due to the credibility of the people doing the investigation.”
But, ten days later, he told the Home News Tribune, that the fatal shooting had brought to light a concern about the way police behave near the border of New Brunswick and Franklin.
As the Home News Tribune’s Suzanne Russell described, “[Soaries said]… there is an area at the tip of New Brunswick and Franklin where a cluster of people believe police are inappropriately aggressive.”
“A lot of people have come forward and said they are not surprised by this,” Soaries was quoted as saying. “I’m going to look further into that specific complaint.”
Just hours before July 21 protest march, Soaries told the press that he was considering asking for a “federal investigation” into the civil rights implications of the Grant killing.
“I plan to ask for a federal investigation at the appropriate time, based on civil rights issues,” Soaries told the Franklin Reporter.
Soaries said the protest march was an “appropriate response led mostly by young people, due to the fact that they’ve heard nothing from the Prosecutor.”
Grant’s killing also came amid a national discussion on racism and police violence against civilians.
The first of the two Hub City protests came directly in response to two police-inflicted killings in Minnesota and Louisiana.
The last time such large protests against police violence were held in New Brunswick came in December 2014, following a grand jury’s decision not to indict a New York Police Department (NYPD) officer in the videotaped chokehold killing of Eric Garner on Staten Island.
“It happens all too often that people of color are on a fatal end of police actions,”said New Brunswick Mayor James Cahill following that protest.
“Whatever we can do to make sure that happens on a less frequent basis is certainly an obligation we all have as a community as a society regardless of whether we’re government officials, or police officers, or regular old folk.”
Both of the recent demonstrations followed similar trajectories, growing to include hundreds of people as they traversed New Brunswick, blocking numerous intersections to raise awareness of the issue, and bringing large crowds to Kirkpatrick Street, where the headquarters of the MCPO is located.
The July 8 march was billed as an “emergency protest” held in response to the killings in other parts of the country.
Originally scheduled for 5pm, a bad rainstorm caused a low turnout, and organizers told everyone to come back two hours later, re-grouping at the corner of Handy Street and Throop Avenue, less than 200 feet from the backyard where NBPD officer Brad Berdel shot and killed Barry Deloatch, an unarmed city resident in September 2011.
Activist Tormel Pittman led the march, which was supported by several organizations including the Coalition Against Endless War, the local chapter of the NAACP, and the Latino Leadership Alliance of NJ.
The crowd grew in size, as the rain let up and the clouds parted just in time for the revised 7pm start.
“We’re empowering ourselves… After we finish this walk you will never be the same,” Pittman told the crowd in between chants during the 2.5 mile march.
Pittman brought the group to Kirkpatrick Street, where Pittman raised concerns about Carey.
“They told the news reporters [Diahlo Grant] had a weapon… Now the same person that told the media he had a weapon is the same person that’s an advocate for the family?”
“The same person who created a smear campaign in the media, and he goes by the name Andrew Carey.”
Pittman also told the crowd that there was “a racist prosecutor” working for Carey, alluding to Assistant Prosecutor Manuel Sameiro.
Samiero was accused of directing a racial slur towards one of his co-workers in the hallway of the Middlesex County Courthouse. Another co-worker gave sworn testimony in support of the allegation.
The racist remark became an issue for Carey’s predecessor, Bruce Kaplan, when the Senate Judiciary was evaluating his nomination to become a Judge in 2014.
Kaplan, who become ultimately admitted Sameiro had been punished by losing his “team leader” status, but then re-gained the leadership status.
In a political shake-up, Governor Chris Christie replaced Kaplan with Carey in 2013, but Kaplan was quickly offerred a job with the Attorney General’s Office, and then within a year, a Superior Court judgeship.
Pittman said he had personally met with Prosecutor Carey, who he said was “brought in to change Middlesex County.”
But Pittman told the crowd outside the MCPO offices that Carey was not sufficiently concerned about the Samiero situation to provide confidence that he would do justice in the killing of Grant.
“This is the prosecutor that we’re dealing with. This is the person that’s going to get justice for your family,” said Pittman.
“So basically they’re saying there is no justice for us. The only justice we have is to take it ourselves. Today is justice. Whether you believe it or not, today we’re getting justice.”
Less than two weeks later, on July 21, members of the Rutgers chapter of Black Lives Matter (BLM) and a contingent of Grant’s friends and family took to the streets on a hot Thursday afternoon.
The protest was led by Rutgers BLM President Taqwa Brookins, a Franklin Township resident.
“Who were the officers?” asked Brookins. “Why hasn’t the Middlesex County prosecutor released any information to the public regarding the murder of one of their citizens by the police officers who are charged with protecting the community?”
“Be Transparent! Be Transparent!” protesters shouted as they approached downtown.
The most common call and response started with “Say his name!” and concluded with a resounding “Diahlo Grant!”
Among the group was Timothy McDougald, who told the group about how Franklin police officers killed his father in 2010, and then taunted him after the incident.
“I’m here because I’m just tired of the injustice,” said McDougald, who has addressed the New Brunswick City Council about police issues many times.
One protest sign read, “More questions than answers about the death of Diahlo Grant… The more we find out the less we know.”
The march began and ended at the location on Somerset Street where Grant’s life came to an end.
This story is still far from over, and it’s possible the Grant case may eventually make its way from the streets into a New Jersey courtroom.
On July 6, the family filed a “notice of tort claim” alerting authorities that they might sue the government for as much as $5 million.
Diahlo’s mother, Pauline Grant, signed the notice. The family is represented by Princeton-based attorney Cedric Ashley.
Whether or not the family files litigation, the issues at the heart of the protests are currently being explored in other court cases throughout the state.
For instance, the issue of whether or not to police must identify which officers use deadly force on civilians was recently decided at the Superior Court level.
As this reporter wrote on TrentonMakesNews.com, one key court case was examining the exact same issue in Mercer County.
In that case, Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson ruled against the state government and its Attorney General’s Office, which regularly refuses to identify officers who use force against civilians, even when they kill them.
As we reported, the AG’s Office has also been fighting to keep police videos from being made public, just as it is funding the implementation of body-worn cameras in hundreds of police departments.
The issue of when and if police must identify the officers who use force against civlians is currently before mutiple courts in New Jersey.
A Superior Court Judge recently ruled against the NJ Attorney General’s (AG’s) Office in a trio of cases brought by police transparency advocates John Paff and Richard Rivera. But the ruling is likely to be appealed.
Rivera, a former West New York police officer, had filed a lawsuit to force the release of the names in the killing of 35-year-old Sayreville resident Daniel Wolfe.
Wolfe shot and killed by NJ State Police while allegedly driving a stolen car in Union Township on April 21, 2015. Police have indicated that they have no video recordings of the fatal shooting, and have refused to name the officers responsible.
Meanwhile, Paff’s case sought to compel the AG’s Office, which is investigating the case because it involved state and county cops, to identify the two officers responsible for the shooting of Radazz Hearns, a teenager who miraculously survived being gunned down in August 2015.
Prior to the controversial NJ Appellate Court ruling in Lyndhurst v. North Jersey Media Group, use of force reports were considered public documents that must be made available by local police department if requested under the NJ Open Public Records Act (OPRA).
While information about Hearns’ criminal record was illegally leaked to the press, the AG’s Office refused to name the officers who shot the 13-year-old.
Paff told NBT, ” I couldn’t allow this to stand. I couldn’t allow this to be,” referring to the Hearns case.
Even though news outlets have already identified who they think the officers involved in the shooting are, the lawsuit is proving to be a critical test case for police transparency in NJ.
In her 79-page ruling, Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson agreed with Paff and Rivera, ordering the AG’s Office to identify the officers who shot Hearns and Wolfe.
Jacobson also found that the AG’s Office must name the cops who used pepper spray, tear gas and loud noise emitters on a crowd at the Hot 97 Summer Jam event last August.
The ruling marks a major setback for the position of the AG’s Office, which typically refuses to name any individual officers, even when they kill people, citing fears about “officer safety.”
The only officer to be charged with a crime in any of New Jersey’s 17 fatal police shootings last year was Philip Siedle, a Neptune Police Sgt. who shot his ex-wife in front of his 7-year-old daughter.
Grant was the second of six men to be killed by police in New Jersey this year, according to The Guardian. So far, no police have been criminally charged in connection with the killings.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.