Mom de­clines to testify at cen­sor­ship hear­ing about boy who took drugs to school

The Trentonian (Trenton, NJ) - - NEWS - By Su­laiman Ab­dur-Rah­man Su­laiman@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @sab­durr on Twit­ter

TREN­TON >> The mother of a 5-year-old school­boy who twice had drugs in his pos­ses­sion at the school last year has now in­voked her Fifth Amend­ment right to not testify be­fore a Mercer County Fam­ily Court judge.

Tashawn Ford as­serted her con­sti­tu­tional rights Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon to shield her­self from tes­ti­fy­ing in a court of law af­ter the state called her to the wit­ness stand. When a wit­ness pleads the Fifth, the wit­ness typ­i­cally does that to avoid giv­ing self-in­crim­i­nat­ing tes­ti­mony.

The New Jersey At­tor­ney Gen­eral’s Of­fice ac­cuses Tren­to­nian news re­porter Isaac Avilucea of un­law­fully ob­tain­ing a child cus­tody re­port from Ford, but the staff writer on Wed­nes­day tes­ti­fied that the boy’s mom “handed me a copy of the ver­i­fied com­plaint and said, ‘You can have it.’”

The boy’s ma­ter­nal grand­mother, how­ever, gave a dif­fer­ent ac­count of events when she took to the wit­ness stand on Wed­nes­day. The grandma, Tues­day Ford, in her sworn tes­ti­mony said Avilucea “kept pres­sur­ing” Tashawn Ford for the doc­u­ments in ques­tion.

Although The Tren­to­nian has a copy of the child com­plaint, the news­pa­per has been blocked from pub­lish­ing the con­tents of the doc­u­ments due to the state serv­ing the news­pa­per with a so­called “prior re­straint” — the gov­ern­ment’s way of cen­sor­ing the press from pub­lish­ing some­thing sig­nif­i­cant.

The child cus­tody doc­u­ments re­late to the 5-year-old boy who was found with drugs at school on two sep­a­rate oc­ca­sions last year. He was taken away from his fam­ily and placed into foster care by the New Jersey Divi­sion of Child Pro­tec­tion and Per­ma­nency af­ter a teacher at the In­ter­na­tional

Acad­emy of Tren­ton Char­ter School found crack co­caine in the stu­dent’s folder on Oct. 24, 2016. The prior re­straint was served to

The Tren­to­nian shortly be­fore the news­pa­per pub­lished a story on the boy’s cus­tody sit­u­a­tion.

Le­gal pro­ceed­ings have re­ferred to the boy’s mother by her ini­tials T.F., but The Tren­to­nian has pre­vi­ously iden­ti­fied her by name. Her lawyer, Amy Vasquez, on Wed­nes­day said the state has “im­prop­erly brought” the prior re­straint case to court and said the child com­plaint was not a pro­tected, con­fi­den­tial doc­u­ment. Eli Se­gal, an at­tor­ney for The

Tren­to­nian, asked Judge Lawrence P. De Bello to dis­miss the case, say­ing the state had “made no ef­fort” to in­form the mother

that the child com­plaint was con­fi­den­tial and that the state has “no ba­sis” for go­ing af­ter the news re­porter.

Avilucea’s at­tor­ney, Bruce Rosen, said his client was “do­ing his job” and that the world needs more “ag­gres­sive re­port­ing.”

As­sis­tant At­tor­ney Gen­eral Erin O’Leary op­posed the news­pa­per’s mo­tion to dis­miss the case, and the judge ul­ti­mately al­lowed the case to pro­ceed on the mer­its rather than toss it out.

De Bello on Wed­nes­day heard wit­ness tes­ti­mony from Tues­day Ford, Isaac Avilucea, Deputy At­tor­ney Gen­eral John Tol­leris and Tren­ton com­mu­nity ac­tivist Dar­ren “Free­dom” Green, who iden­ti­fied him­self as a friend of the Ford fam­ily.

All of the wit­nesses tes­ti­fied about the series of events that oc­curred on Oct. 26, 2016, at the Mercer County Civil Court­house.

Avilucea tes­ti­fied that the mom of the 5-year-old child came to The

Tren­to­nian’s news­room of­fices on the morn­ing of Oct. 26 2016, and told him there was go­ing to be a hear­ing at 1 p.m. that day con­cern­ing a fam­ily court mat­ter. He said he ar­rived later that af­ter­noon at the court­house, where the mom handed him the child com­plaint, and that he asked her if he could make a copy of it. He said the mother had given him per­mis­sion to make a copy of the doc­u­ment, but that she de­clined to ac­com­pany him on his way to make the copy.

Af­ter mak­ing a copy of the doc­u­ments, Avilucea said he re­turned the orig­i­nal pa­per­work to the mother and was then “con­fronted” by some­one who turned out to be Tol­leris, who “de­manded I give the com­plaint back,” Avilucea said. “I told him I law­fully ob­tained it.”

Re­fus­ing to hand over the doc­u­ments, Avilucea kept the pa­pers in his pos­ses­sion, walked away and down a flight of stairs. In the process, he used his mo­bile phone to call his boss as he was be­ing fol­lowed by a Mercer County sher­iff’s of­fi­cer. “I did not stop; I kept walk­ing,” he tes­ti­fied. “It is very easy to make a phone call while walk­ing. I wanted my boss to be aware of what was go­ing on.”

Tol­leris on Wed­nes­day tes­ti­fied that he was fol­low­ing af­ter Avilucea at the court­house on Oct. 26, 2016, upon learn­ing that the news re­porter had a copy of a con­fi­den­tial child com­plaint — a com­plaint that had no spe­cially clas­si­fied mark­ings or con­fi­den­tial la­bels on it be­cause it “hasn’t been the prac­tice” of the Divi­sion of Child Pro­tec­tion and Per­ma­nency to place con­fi­den­tial la­bels on child com­plaints, he said.

The deputy at­tor­ney gen­eral also said the boy’s mom was fol­low­ing him as he was walk­ing at a quick pace to keep up with Avilucea, and said the mother had al­leged Avilucea “took” and “grabbed” the doc­u­ments from her.

Af­ter lis­ten­ing to about two hours of oral tes­ti­mony, Judge De Bello on Wed­nes­day said the par­ties have un­til March 24 to give him any ad­di­tional writ­ten briefs. He will pre­sum­ably make a de­ci­sion some­time af­ter that on whether he will up­hold or deny the state’s cen­sor­ship tac­tics that have blocked The Tren­to­nian from pub­lish­ing the con­tents of the child com­plaint.

Avilucea, who is un­der­go­ing chemo­ther­apy in his sec­ond bat­tle against tes­tic­u­lar can­cer, ap­peared up­beat fol­low­ing Wed­nes­day’s prior re­straint hear­ing. “I’m not cocky; I’m con­fi­dent,” he said, “and just hop­ing it goes our way.”

The New Jersey chap­ter of the So­ci­ety of Pro­fes­sional Jour­nal­ists has awarded Avilucea with the Courage Un­der Fire Award for his ag­gres­sive re­port­ing on the boy who brought drugs to school.

DAVID FOSTER — THE TREN­TO­NIAN

The In­ter­na­tional Acad­emy of Tren­ton Char­ter School at 31Chancery Lane is seen on Wed­nes­day, Oct. 26, 2016.

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