Bridgewater on the Verge of Reaching Agreement with Black Teen Involved in Viral Commons Mall Arrest

Bridgewater Township appears to be nearing a resolution with one of the teenagers involved in a viral altercation nearly two years ago at Bridgewater Commons. The incident gained international attention when a video depicting a police officer tackling the teen went viral.

A “friendly hearing” between the township and the parents of the teen, Ebone and Jihad Husain, is scheduled for Jan. 30, presided over by Somerset County Superior Court Judge Robert Ballard. Such hearings seek the court’s approval for settlements involving minors.

Video credit: CBS New York

Bridgewater is on the Verge of Reaching Agreement with Black Teen

“The Township has been engaged in discussions related to settlement, and this hearing marks the next phase in those negotiations,” stated Bridgewater. Gregg Zeff, the attorney representing Ebone and Jihad Husain, expressed anticipation for the court hearing, hoping for a resolution in the matter.

On November 27, Zeff initiated legal action by filing a lawsuit comprising four counts against the township. The allegations include discrimination, inadequate training, loss of consortium, and negligence.

The legal action is pursuing a $100,000 judgment against the township, inclusive of interest, costs, and attorney fees. The lawsuit has been submitted to obtain the court’s approval for the proposed settlement. “The involved parties have reached a proposed settlement,” states the lawsuit.

Resolving the claim represents one of the final steps in concluding the dispute surrounding an incident that brought the township’s police department into the international spotlight.

The controversy unfolded on February 12, 2022, when two teenagers, Z’Kye Husain, a Black male from Somerville, then 15, and Umar Joseph Franco, a 15-year-old of Colombian and Pakistani heritage perceived to be white, engaged in a scuffle near Bloomingdale’s on the third story of the mall.

In the footage, Husain and Franco, the latter a sophomore at Bridgewater-Raritan High School at the time, can be observed engaging in a verbal dispute, gesticulating and pointing fingers. This escalates into physical altercations, involving pushing and shoving. Subsequently, the Black teenager, Husain, is forcibly brought to the ground and handcuffed, while Franco is positioned on a nearby couch.

Two police officers arrived at the scene, with one of them compelling the Black teenager to the ground and subsequently handcuffing him. Simultaneously, the other teenager was seated but not subjected to handcuffing.

Following the incident, both teenagers were released into the custody of their parents, and no charges were brought against them.

The occurrence was captured by onlookers and shared on social media platforms. Subsequently, both the Bridgewater Police Department and the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office received over 1,000 complaints regarding the incident.

In the subsequent weeks, Bridgewater experienced a surge of protests denouncing the actions of the police. Additionally, an anti-Black Lives Matter banner was displayed on a pedestrian bridge spanning the ramp from Route 22 to Route 202-206, close to Bridgewater Commons.

Renowned civil rights attorney Ben Crump, engaged at that juncture to advocate for the Black teenager, visited the municipal complex to conduct a press conference. During the conference, he expressed contemplation of pursuing legal action in response to the incident.

During that press briefing, Z’Kye, then an eighth-grader, expressed, “I don’t comprehend why I was treated disparately solely due to the colour of my skin.”

He continued, stating, “I believe I shouldn’t have to consider myself fortunate for escaping harm or death at the hands of those sworn to safeguard us.” Z’Kye emphasized the purpose of their presence, declaring, “That’s why we’re gathered here today – to alter the narrative, to ensure we’re not relying on luck to avoid being treated as less than human.”

The outstanding aspect yet to be settled involves a dispute between the township and the state Attorney General’s Office regarding a delay in disclosing a township report on the police handling of the incident.

In February, Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin voiced frustration, citing that Bridgewater Township had taken an “inordinate length of time” to review and release the report. Platkin emphasized that any further delay in the report’s release would “strain the delicate trust between the public and the law enforcement community.”

In response, Bridgewater Mayor Matt Moench expressed his perplexity at Platkin’s statement, asserting that the township had encountered obstacles and delays imposed by the Attorney General’s Office.

“In our persistent attempts to communicate with the Attorney General’s office throughout the spring, summer, and fall of the previous year, we were essentially met with silence,” stated Moench in his statement. He added, “If, as the Attorney General asserts, there has been a delay causing frustration and straining trust, then the accountability for that delay lies squarely in Trenton, not here in Bridgewater.”

Complicating the report’s release is a lawsuit initiated by the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office, aiming to nullify a subpoena issued by a Bridgewater police officer undergoing a disciplinary hearing.

Officer Adam Giurlando has subpoenaed two documents from the Prosecutor’s Office’s examination of the incident, asserting that they “contain exculpatory evidence and must be disclosed,” as per court documents.

The nature of the disciplinary charges facing Giurlando remains undisclosed, and it remains uncertain whether the other involved officer, Brittany MacDonald, is facing any charges.

According to court documents, Giurlando is confronted with disciplinary charges based on a recommendation from the Attorney General’s Office of Public Integrity and Accountability.

Among the documents sought by the officer is a preliminary use-of-force report, while the other is a draft memo encompassing a legal analysis of the incident and the internal affairs investigation conducted by the Prosecutor’s Office.

In its legal action, the Prosecutor’s Office contends that the two documents are privileged as they fall under the category of “attorney work product.”

The ongoing legal dispute surrounding the subpoena, currently under the consideration of Superior Court Judge Robert Ballard, is expected to extend the timeline for the release of the final report by the Attorney General’s Office regarding the incident at the mall last winter.

While the Attorney General’s Office concluded its report in September and forwarded it to the Bridgewater Police Department for potential action, the lack of information on any steps taken by the police department has led to frustration among Bridgewater residents and Township Council members.

Currently, the lawsuit between the prosecutor’s office and Giurlando is undergoing mediation.

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What prompted the altercation at Bridgewater Commons two years ago?

The incident at Bridgewater Commons involved a scuffle between two teenagers, Z’Kye Husain and Umar Joseph Franco, which escalated and drew public attention after a video of a police officer tackling one of the teens circulated widely.

What is the purpose of the upcoming “friendly hearing” on Jan. 30?

The “friendly hearing” is scheduled for court approval of the potential settlement between Bridgewater Township and the parents of the teen involved, Ebone and Jihad Husain. Such hearings are customary in settlements involving minors.

What allegations are included in the lawsuit against Bridgewater Township?

The lawsuit filed by the parents of the teen includes allegations of discrimination, inadequate training, loss of consortium, and negligence against Bridgewater Township.

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