Trenton NAACP cites director’s ‘one-way relationship’
TRENTON » City police director Ernest Parrey Jr., feeling the heat after a civil rights group called on him to resign, strolled outside of department headquarters Thursday afternoon, prior to the start of a news conference, and requested a closed-door meeting with the president of the Trenton NAACP.
Parrey, a member of Mayor Eric Jackson’s cabinet, walked back into his office after asking Trenton NAACP president Jonette Smart to meet with him privately to discuss her group’s efforts to have him supplanted as head of the department.
The overture was ultimately rebuffed after Parrey didn’t attend the news conference, where Smart asked for his resignation following several high-profile blunders and called on city leaders to be held responsible.
“When there’s something that’s a negative, they always want to have it behind closed doors,” Smart said in an interview hours after the news conference, explaining why she declined the meeting.
After sending a letter to Mayor Jackson earlier this week, asking him to get rid of the police director, Smart renewed calls for Parrey’s firing and called on residents and leaders to work together to reconcile wounds she said were reopened when Parrey was caught on body camera in July using a racist slur to refer to city residents, and when officers were caught on tape talking about beating suspects with flashlights.
Mayor Eric Jackson called the cops’ comments “repugnant.” Experts said, in particular, the director’s barb could lead to a breakdown in city relations that the police department has tried to solidify with community policing efforts.
“If this administration thinks it’s good,” Smart said, “it needs to wake up.”
After the news conference, Smart said she was undecided whether she would meet separately with the police director.
Calling out city officials for a lack of transparency and an unwillingness to engage residents, she said she felt Parrey’s absence from the news conference sent a bad message to Trenton residents and reflected a “one-way relationship” he’s had with the community.
Smart added the police director hadn’t contacted her or offered to meet with her before Thursday.
When asked if she would disclose later in the day whether she met with the director, Smart said, “I’m transparent.”
Following through on her word, Smart said it would have sent a mixed message to the community to meet with the police director at this juncture. She may consider meeting with him in the future.
Citing a recent newspaper column Parrey penned in which he appeared to pat himself on the back for implementing initiatives aimed at cracking down on crime, Smart said she viewed suspiciously the director’s attempt to “put her on the spot” in asking for the meeting. She believed it was another way for Parrey to mold his message, and ultimately, try to save his skin.
“To flaunt the quote-unquote positives doesn’t resolve that there’s [bad] behavior in the department,” she said. “The department is not perfect, and for people to say it is, is living blindly. We have to stop saying, ‘Parrey’s a good guy’ and overlooking some of the issues in our community. If Gov. [Chris] Christie wasn’t a bully would they still put aside what has happened to the state? I don’t think so.”
The organization tried to flex its societal-changing muscles at the news conference.
A member of the civil rights group held up a sign, scrawled in ballpoint pen ink, that said, “We are not hood rats,” in response to Parrey’s use of the derogatory term which many felt was racist. Another wore a blue shirt that said, “NAACP strong.”
The showing was hardly strong, though.
Only a handful of people attended the noon news conference, an apathetic turnout Smart felt wasn’t indicative of city residents’ lack of interest in issues impacting the city.
“If this were Princeton …” one city resident said, noting the paltry turnout.
Smart faulted leaders and residents for not being engaged but blamed it more on officials’ unwillingness to share information about police investigations and other issues which has resulted in sparing commitment toward reform.
“It’s a combination of both,” she said.
Police sources who spoke on condition of anonymity because they fear retaliation said the negative media attention Parrey has received lately is a “stain on the police department,” and that he “does not represent us.”
Smart disclosed at the news conference she will ask city officials to commit to establishing a police oversight committee which would have a 25-year member of the police force sitting on it.
She wouldn’t provide that person’s name because nothing is official yet.
Parrey has had a number of embarrassing gaffes that prompted the Trenton NAACP to get involved.
Besides the racial slur, he made an illegal stop of a city resident. He had no authority to do so as a civilian police director.
The organization also criticized Parrey after The Trentonian published body cam footage of three city police officers making fun of a gunshot victim and discussing how to get away with using excessive force.
The officers, Tim Miller, Gloria Garcia and Sgt. Charles Lamin, are being investigated by internal affairs. A police spokesman didn’t respond to questions about whether the department would release the findings of that investigation.
IA investigation results are considered personnel matters and are not usually made public.
Smart said that needs to change, adding that, if she meets with Parrey, that would be top on her list of requests.
“That’s one of the issues,” she said.
On the issue of holding city officials accountable, Smart reiterated her organization is “non-partisan” and therefore wouldn’t use politics to get their message through to the mayor.
The mayor’s spokesman, Michael Walker, attended the news conference only to listen to the group’s message.
He said the mayor, after meeting with the NAACP and writing a letter to Smart earlier this week, hadn’t taken a position on whether he would ask Parrey to make public the investigative findings against the three officers.
Jonette C. Smart, President of the Trenton chapter of the NAACP, calls for the resignation of Police Director Ernest Parrey Jr. in front of TPD headquarters Thursday.