BRIDGETON, N.J. (AP) — A fatal shooting by police officers of a man who defied their orders by stepping out of a car during a traffic stop but had his hands raised has opened a new rift between residents and the police department in the struggling city.
Jerame Reid's Dec. 30 death has received scrutiny from activist groups and community members since the Bridgeton Police Department released a video this week showing how it unfolded — as another black man died at the hands of police officers, one black and one white.
While there have been protests, none has been violent. On Friday, leaders of the state NAACP joined city officials to call for patience and peace during an investigation into Reid's shooting death.
"We would all wish the events of that night did not happen," Mayor Albert Kelly said. "But it has happened. We must heal and go forward as a community. Yes, we can go back and see the mistakes that were made so we can move forward and learn from our mistakes, so we can be better for it."
Police Chief Mark Ott said Bridgeton, about 35 miles south of Philadelphia, has become more difficult to patrol as crime has risen and resources have shrunk. And some residents say police are too prone to violence.
Ott said the police force has shrunk from 72 full-time officers to about 60. He said he puts patrols in high-crime neighborhoods, such as the one where Reid was killed, but the city budget doesn't allow the resources to walk through neighborhoods and work with residents the way he'd like.
"The police, in their routine, day-to-day operations, don't come into contact, unfortunately, with the public, other than when there's an emergency," Ott said.
In a state where most of the residents live in unbroken strings of cities and suburbs, Bridgeton is different. It's a city of 25,000 residents surrounded by produce farms and nurseries. Most of the manufacturing jobs that once made the city buzz have been gone for decades. Now, about one-third of the people live in poverty, and the Victorian homes are weathered.
On the patrol car dashboard camera video, Officer Braheme Days, who's black, says he saw a gun in the glove compartment after a car stop and pulls his weapon. Days, who appears to take a silver handgun from the car, shouts repeatedly and profanely for Reid to put his hands up and not move. Reid steps out of the vehicle against the officer's orders, with his hands up about shoulder level. Days and his partner, Officer Roger Worley, who's white, open fire.
From 2012 through 2014, officers in Bridgeton filed more than 300 reports documenting uses of force, according to records obtained by The Associated Press through an open public records request. Most involved using pepper spray or a similar agent or compliance holds on suspects officers said were resisting arrest.
During that period, Worley was involved in 23 uses of force and Days 11. Other officers had more.
Days and Worley, who are on administrative leave, couldn't be reached for comment Friday. Shane Sawyers, president of the Police Benevolent Association Local 94, which represents them, wouldn't say whether the union had lawyers for them.
"We support our guys 100 percent," he said.
Days and Worley have been the subjects of a handful of complaints alleging abuses of power over the past two years, but all the complaints were dismissed.
Residents have called for both officers to be fired. Latisha Fuqua, who said Days had been harassing her teenage son, said she heard the gunshots on Dec. 30.
"You know what my first thoughts were?" she asked. "Days has killed my son."
The Cumberland County prosecutor's office is investigating the shooting. Legal experts say the key question is whether the officers reasonably believed they were in imminent danger when they shot Reid. Even though a gun had been taken out of the car, prosecutors could be considering whether the officers thought Reid had another weapon as he moved toward Days.
Mulvihill reported from Haddonfield.