The City Council on Wednesday called for “the immediate release of all video footage and investigative reports” touching on the fatal shooting of Andrew Washington, 52, at his Randolph Avenue home on August 27.
A resolution passed by the council stipulated that any such tapes and records “in the possession of the Office of Attorney General, Jersey City Police Department and/or any other investigative agencies” should be made available “for public review.”
In other matters, the council approved a 30-year tax abatement for the first phase of Bayfront, a mixed-use development planned along the Hackensack River and tabled for further review proposals to amend the city’s laws governing the operation of cannabis retail shops after hearing complaints from applicants that proposed rule changes would disrupt an orderly business operation and be unfair to those who’ve paid high fees as part of the current review process.
The Andrew Washington Shooting
Despite increasing pressure to release the Washington materials, Attorney General spokesperson Michael Symons said Thursday, “There are no updates currently ready to share about the investigation into Mr. Washington’s death. After the initial investigation is substantially complete, the body-worn camera footage will be made public in accordance with the Independent Prosecutor Directive.”
State law mandates that the AG to review any deaths that occur during an encounter with, or while in the custody of, a law enforcement officer and that such investigations be presented to a grand jury to determine if the office involved should be indicted.
Police said they recovered a knife near Washington’s body after he was fatally shot.
The resolution was placed on the agenda toward the end of the meeting, just a few hours after a rally held in front of City Hall by a group known as the People’s Organization for Progress on behalf of the Washington family who have said that Andrew had been plagued by mental health issues and should not have been the victim of deadly force.
Lawrence Hamm, the group’s chairman, recalled he was “here on these same steps 23 years ago when (a Black city resident) Michael Anglin was shot in the head by a Jersey City police officer at the age of 15.”
Anglin was killed during a police pursuit and the officer, who has since retired, reportedly said his gun accidentally went off as he struggled with the teen and wasn’t charged in the incident. The city settled a lawsuit by the teen’s family for $2.4 million.
“We demand the AG do a thorough investigation, leave no stone unturned – a fair and objective investigation – because we know Andrew’s killers are going to sweep his death under the rug,” Hamm said.
“Can you feel the pain his family felt when they asked to talk to him (before the shooting) and they weren’t allowed?” Hamm asked the crowd.
As evidence of what he – and many others –perceive as a dual, race-based standard of justice practiced by law enforcement in the U.S., Hamm cited the recent capture of a murderer, Danilo Cavalcante, a white man who had broken out of prison in Pennsylvania and had been at large for two weeks. He had a rifle when he was caught.
This man, Hamm said, “was a convicted murderer with a gun and they took him alive but they couldn’t take Drew Washington alive.”
Asserting that police “have too much power” in Jersey City, Hamm urged Philp Sellinger, the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, to “launch a civil rights investigation” of the Washington shooting and he pressed state lawmakers to create a police review board in Jersey City with the authority to exercise subpoena power “so it won’t be toothless.”
Tony Perkins, a cousin of Andrew, called on Mayor Steve Fulop to release the body cam footage to learn what happened. “The truth is essential for justice and healing,” he said.
“Drew was the victim of an uninformed, untrained police force,” Perkins said. “Mental illness is not a crime and shouldn’t be treated as such.”
Ward F Councilmember Frank Gilmore labeled Washington’s death “a horrific event” and assured the crowd that he’s prepared to “be here and ask the hard questions” to get the truth.
Inside City Hall, as city legislators tackled scheduled agenda items, periodic choruses of “Justice for Drew” from Washington family supporters echoed through the chambers.
And, during the public portion of the meeting, several speakers chastised the council for failing to have implemented a mental health intervention strategy in responding to community disturbances similar to the Washington situation.
Gilmore said the city put out a Request for Proposals last spring to implement the program and received two bids that city staffers judged to be excessive so, “a month ago,” the city re-advertised for new proposals.
And those new bids “are due back September 26,” said John Metro, city business administrator. Staff should have a recommendation ready for the October 12 council session, he added.
City resident Janine Brown, who grew up with a mother diagnosed as schizophrenic, said she was constantly fearful that her mother would act out, prompting the arrival of “a team of armed strangers” to deal with her.
Her mom, Brown said, is now under supervisory care in an out-of-town treatment facility, but when her mother was still in Jersey City, she felt “my mom’s journey could’ve ended like Andrew Washington.”
“We need swift implementation of a mental health response unit,” Brown said.
Resident Tova Fry asserted there’s been “an epidemic of police murders of Black and Brown bodies. Thousands have been killed all over the country. And 20% of those killed were due to a mental health crisis. The approach is to use force, brutality and murder. The way to stop this is is to have mental health specialists go out.”
The AG website says that, “Across New Jersey, two out of every three uses of force by law enforcement involve a civilian suffering from mental illness or who is under the influence. Over half of all fatal police encounters occur in similar circumstances. These numbers are unacceptable.”
To try and remedy the situation, the AG has piloted an initiative “that pairs together a state trooper, trained in crisis intervention and de-escalation techniques, with a certified mental health screener and crisis specialist, to respond to 9-1-1 calls involving behavioral health incidents.”
In 2021, these ARRIVE (Alternative Responses to Reduce Instances of Violence and Escalation) teams began operating in Hudson (Bayonne), Essex, Union, Middlesex and Cumberland counties. In 2022, a “telehealth” program started in Atlantic County and this year, a “follow-up model” was added in Ocean, Mercer and Cape May counties.
ARRIVE units have led to “fewer arrests, fewer uses of force, fewer injuries and addresses racial disparities with respect to outcome,” the AG says.
Meanwhile, a contingent of local union leaders representing different trades congratulated the council for the culmination of years-long efforts to acquire and clean up a 95-acre chromium-contaminated site and for taking the first step to developing it for new housing and commercial uses.
Of a total 8,000 residential units projected, 35% are to be reserved as affordable housing.
Under the deal approved by the council, Bayfront Development Partners LLC, a joint venture of Pennrose Holdings LLC and Omni Bayfront LLC, are contracted to build – as Phase 1 of the overall redevelopment area – a single 6-story building with 210 residential units, 52 parking garage spaces and adjacent surface parking, indoor and outdoor amenity spaces for residents and some commercial space “which may include a technology learning center, day care center and credit union.”
The affordable units will be earmarked for those households earning 60% of area median income or less.
Of note, the developers will pay the city an annual service charge “equal to 5% of residential rental income plus 10%” of other residential and commercial income which, in the first year of the 30-year agreement, is estimated at $318,347.
In a separate resolution passed Wednesday, the council directed the city administration to negotiate with the city Board of Education “for an agreement to share a portion of the annual service charge … with the BOE.”
The developers must also “execute a project labor agreement and project employment and training agreement” with local unions.
Bayfront’s Phase 1 is expected to generate 240 jobs, of which 212 will be construction jobs and the balance permanent jobs, mostly with the commercial shops.
Ward B Councilmember Mira Prinz-Arey cautioned that this agreement “is not one and done – there will be requests for other PILOTs (Payments In Lieu Of Taxes)” as the rest of the project is built out.
But Prinz-Arey and Ward A representative Denise Ridley agreed that Bayfront would stand as a model community, not only in Jersey City, but for the region.
Ward C member Rich Boggiano said he was voting for the agreement out of respect for his West Side colleague “but people living in 1-, 2-, 3- and 4-family homes are suffering (and) taxes have to go down. We’re driving everyone out of the city.”
Nonetheless, said Council President Joyce Watterman, “From the beginning, we knew it was going to take tax abatements (to drive the project).” And now, she said, following all the development in Downtown, “the south side (which now takes in Bayfront under rezoning) deserves to be built up, too.”
Ward E member James Solomon said: “Jersey City needs affordable homes and this is absolutely the right thing to do.” Seconding that was Gilmore who said: “It’s very rare to see a project (like Bayfront) check all the boxes. I wish all my votes were this easy.”
At-large member Amy Degise called Bayfront “an incredible public/private partnership” and Ward D member Yousef Saleh recalled when the project site “used to be a swarth of a post-Apocalyptic land” in contrast to what bodes for its near future. “This is a good day for Jersey City,” he said.