UPDATE: Englewood’s PBA answered back on Wednesday, saying that leaders of a weekend protest march provoked their arrests by interfering in an incident along the route.
Union leaders also countered reports that previous marches leading up to Saturday’s Black Excellence event had been peaceful.
They also blasted Mayor Michael Wildes for his role in the incident, saying that he has “consistently chosen to play both sides against the middle” and changes his support “whether or not he can gain from it politically.”
Tensions escalated when police responded to a report of a fight along Saturday’s parade route.
Roughly 15 participants set off from Mackay Park in the "March of Black Excellence," organized by Ainsworth Minott.
About 20 minutes later, police got the call of a fight in progress on William Street just north of Wes Englewood Avenue, Englewood PBA Local 216 said in a release issued Wednesday.
“This happened at the exact time the Black Excellence march/protest was passing through the intersection,” it said.
“Due to interference and diversion of officers' attention, it is currently unknown if the fight that prompted the police response was completely unconnected to the march/protest,” the union said. “What is known is that upon police arrival, the ‘leaders’ of the march/protest became irate and began to berate the officers.”
Minott and other organizers said he and the Rev. Preston Thompson of Ebenezer Baptist Church broke off from the group to stop a fight among two female civilians.
Police arrived around the same time, with one announcing that the march was over, video recorded at the scene shows.
Shouting erupted between police and the marchers as the officers tried to move the group off the street, the video shows.
Officers were pushing the group back when Minott went chest-to-chest with one of them.
Then things got physical.
Almost instantly, the officer and others pushed forward. Some marchers were forced to the ground in the sudden scramble.
Before the dust settled, Minott and three others are arrested.
Union leaders “chose to interfere with an active investigation and interject themselves into the situation,” union leaders said Wednesday.
“When the protestors repeatedly failed to comply with the officers' lawful orders, officers advised they were under arrest,” they said. “Some of them complied, but some of them did not.
“Failure to comply does not invalidate the arrest and make it go away. The force used by our officers was appropriate and completely necessary in order to effect the arrests,” Local 216 leaders said.
Minott and three Cresskill residents were taken into custody and processed on obstruction and disorderly conduct charges before being released.
Four videos recorded at the scene are collected below. They are among the evidence that Police Chief Lawrence Suffern said would be reviewed as part of an internal affairs investigation, with the eventual results shared with the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office and the New Jersey State Attorney General’s Office.
Wildes, the mayor, attended Saturday's event. He called the marches “a comfort and source of unity” in Englewood.
The former federal prosecutor and onetime NYPD auxiliary officer also said he believed Englewood police shouldn’t be investigating their own and that it would be “wise under the circumstances” to have another law enforcement agency conduct the review.
The incident “underscores the need for us to review best practices, a sense of priority and equity” that would “tighten up any weak spots” and ensure that the city police department is effective and “engages in a productive way” with the community, the mayor said.
Union leaders, in turn, said they are “deeply disappointed with the lack of support from our elected officials, specifically Mayor Wildes," who "has consistently chosen to play both sides against the middle.
"His support of law enforcement changes depending on whether or not he can gain from it politically," the release says.
“We absolutely welcome and encourage an independent investigation into the situation,” union leaders added.
Wildes responded that he has "a deep respect for our law enforcement professionals. Each day, I am reminded of the nobility of this profession, and have ingrained that sentiment in my children, to recognize and be thankful for that service.
"I have consistently voiced my support for our local police leadership, and have expressed my gratitude for the officers who have attended to our safety at all of the protests activities that have occurred," he added.
The PBA statement, the mayor said, "supports my assessment that the situation warrants an independent investigation.
" Social justice, as well as the rights and safety of both our residents and our law enforcement professionals are serious matters, and there is no 'playing' of any sides happening here," Wildes said.
"There is no political gain to be had. Either we face these issues head on, or we all lose," he added. "Residents as well as outsiders and media look to the mayor for answers in situations such as these. It’s my job to be attentive to all sides of any issue in our city, and to be responsive in representing our city.
" I will continue to do so, irrespective of criticism from any party.'
It wasn’t the first time trouble broke out at what have become weekly marches, union leaders noted.
“There have been arrests made and injuries sustained by Englewood residents as a result of these protests,” their release says.
Minott's statement that he was "rushed" by a spectator the week before “is not accurate,” it says.
Some have claimed that Minott assaulted the spectator. Police officials, however, said they had no conclusive proof and asked that anyone with video of the incident contact them.
“If video footage exists, we implore the chief of police to release any footage of the incident for the public to see what actually occurred,” union leaders wrote Wednesday. “Mr. Minott's behavior is unacceptable and rationalizing his actions will contribute to a higher level of danger for our officers and citizens.”
In the end, they said, people aren’t getting the complete story.
“Our officers respond to dangerous calls on a regular basis, and we do so without regard for our own safety,” union leaders said. “We make difficult decisions based on limited information, in split-second time.
“Members of our community and the public who choose to sit on their computers and ‘arm-chair quarterback’ our response do not understand the difficulty that surrounds our profession.
“Our officers will not be intimidated by false accusations in a rush to judgment before all the facts have been considered. Regardless, we will continue to protect and serve the City of Englewood.”
Click here to sign up for Daily Voice's free daily emails and news alerts.