PATERSON — A judge last week rejected the city’s effort to obtain a dismissal in the freedom-of-speech lawsuit filed by Black Lives Matter leaders arrested during a January 2019 protest over Jameek Lowery’s death.
“What the judge said is, ‘Let a jury decide,’” stated Alexander Shalom, the lawyer representing the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey in the case. “That’s a terrific decision for us. We think any jury will be compelled by the evidence to find in our favor.”
The city’s lawyers had tried to convince the judge that the lawsuit should be dismissed because the officers who arrested Paterson Black Lives Matter founder Zellie Thomas and social justice activist Mark “Hawk” Newsome believed the two men were blocking traffic during the protest.
But Superior Court Judge Bruno Mongiardo decided on Aug. 15 that the lawsuit against Paterson and its Police Department could proceed.
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What did the judge do?
As part of his ruling, the judge dismissed the protesters’ complaints against two cops named in the lawsuit — Sean McIvor and Joel Santiago — and part of the complaint against a third officer, Heriberto Rodriguez. Mongiardo also ordered that the complaint against the arresting officer, Carlos Charon, should not be dismissed.
McIvor, Rodriguez and Charon have all retired in the years since the protest. Santiago is still working as a Paterson police officer.
City officials did not comment on the judge’s rulings in the protest case. The protest itself stemmed from the police-custody death of Lowery, an incident that prompted a separate lawsuit, one of more than a dozen civil complaints in federal and state courts pending against the Paterson Police Department.
The city has paid out several million dollars because of police-related litigation in the past decade, along with hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.
Paterson Press in June asked the city how much Paterson has spent on its lawyers in the BLM protest arrests case. The city has not provided that information.
Thomas declined to comment on last week’s ruling until after he conferred with his lawyer.
More: Why is Paterson seeking to dismiss a lawsuit over Jameek Lowery protest arrests?
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The city’s arguments
Legal arguments filed in the city’s effort to get the protest lawsuit dismissed highlighted several disputes over the facts in the case:
The city says the protesters were in the street obstructing traffic, but the activists contend they were arrested while on the sidewalk.
The city says the police officers gave warnings before making arrests, but the protesters contend they received no warnings.
The city says Thomas was among the organizers of the protest, but his lawyers say he did not coordinate the rally.
The city says Thomas was told during a pre-rally meeting with police that people blocking traffic would be arrested, but the protesters contend that the information was not given by police to Thomas.
The obstruction charges filed against Thomas and Newsome eventually were dropped in Municipal Court.
Joe Malinconico is editor of Paterson Press.
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Paterson NJ: Bid to quash lawsuit in Jameek Lowery protests denied