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Video shows New Jersey police using batons, pepper spray to break up crowd

"Before the police even came to the area, the fight had broken up. It was done," an eyewitness said. "The police got there and things escalated."
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Police officers in New Jersey are facing scrutiny over their use of force after videos of their response to reports of a street fight went viral on social media.

While authorities say the use of batons and pepper spray was justified and some of the viral videos have been edited, Jersey City residents who witnessed Tuesday's incident blame police for escalating the situation.

Officials said at a news conference Wednesday that the situation escalated after a juvenile tried to grab an officer's gun. Police Chief Michael Kelly said that three 911 calls were received within a short time Tuesday regarding a street fight on Bostwick Avenue. The last call indicated that 100 people were involved.

Kelly said six officers were dispatched and that a crowd engaged with and fought responding officers.

When asked by a reporter Wednesday if a fight was occurring when police arrived at the scene, Public Safety Director James Shea said police were still recovering video and that "some of the video being posted is clearly edited."

Videos posted to social media that have been widely shared show an officer striking people with a baton during the altercation. NBC News has not been able to verify what happened before or after the events shown on the videos.

"While attempting to disperse the crowd, one of our officers was attacked by a juvenile male, who grabbed him around the midsection area attempting to take his weapon or appearing to take his weapon, definitely pulling at his duty belt," Shea said.

The juvenile was pursued by two officers who arrested him.

"He resisted and he was joined by two females, who also resisted the arrest," Shea said.

Another officer tried to help but was bear-hugged by a man, identified by police as Dashawn Muhammed. The officers fell and another man, Roland Gregory, approached and went "on top of" the officer, Shea said.

Pepper spray was deployed but had no effect, Shea said, so an officer used an expandable baton on two men who were wrestling with police officers.

Shea said a preliminary review of the evidence shows that all proper procedures and protocols were followed.

Three adults and two juveniles were arrested, city spokeswoman Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione said.

Gregory was charged with obstruction, while Muhammed and Latia Gregory were charged with aggravated assault on a police officer, disorderly conduct, obstruction, resisting arrest and failure to disperse, Wallace-Scalcione said. The suspects were released with court dates, Shea said.

Two officers were treated for pepper spray exposure and two others were treated for lacerations, bruises and bloody noses, Shea said.

The police chief said that from all of the video that he has seen on social media and police body camera footage, officers "acted with great restraint and used exactly the force necessary to bring this situation to a close where nobody was hurt, even the people that were fighting with police."

Shea said that the incident — like all that involve use of force — is being investigated by the department's internal affairs unit. He encouraged witnesses, including those with video from the incident, to contact the police department's internal affairs unit or the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office, which is also reviewing the matter.

Patrice Louis, 22, who lives on the street where the incident occurred and recorded videos on his cellphone of the altercation between police and residents, said prior to police arriving, a fight broke out between two brothers.

"From my understanding, one of their family members died," Louis told NBC News about the lead up to the fight in a phone interview Wednesday.

He said a group of people successfully broke up the fight, which he witnessed from his balcony.

"Before the police even came to the area, the fight had broken up. It was done," he said. "The police got there and things escalated."

He said officers were chasing people down and telling them to get back into their homes, which he said he was confused by because people were already doing so.

Mayor Steven Fulop suggested at Wednesday's news conference that videos posted to social media do not accurately portray what occurred.

"We live in an environment where people can post things on social media, where they can doctor and edit videos on social media, but the good thing is that the CCTV cameras and body cameras of the officers show a very, very clear picture and timeline of what transpired on Bostwick Avenue yesterday,” Fulop said.