February 17, 2016

Prosecutor Sanctions Police Handling of Perry Arrest

The Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office has determined that Princeton police acted properly in the arrest of Princeton University professor Imani Perry, who was stopped last week for speeding on Mercer Street and subsequently arrested on an outstanding warrant for unpaid parking tickets and a suspended driver’s license.

Ms. Perry, who is the University’s Hughes-Rogers Professor of African American Studies, wrote on social media following the arrest that she was treated “inappropriately and disproportionately” by the officers involved in the arrest. The police department has since released a video from the officers’ dashboard camera showing much of the incident.

“This is an internal affairs investigation that has thus far consisted of reviewing all relevant video evidence, police reports, and court documents,” a statement reads. “Based upon that review, the officer’s conduct is to be commended, not criticized. Unless Perry comes forward with additional evidence, the case will be closed by a finding exonerating the officer.”

The statement goes on to say that a meeting was scheduled with Ms. Perry for last week, but she cancelled. “If she does not reschedule in the near future, we will close our investigation. Although she stated that she would reschedule, we have not yet heard from her. In the meantime, the video was released.”

Ms. Perry was stopped by local police on Saturday, February 6 for driving 67 miles per hour in a 45-miles-per-hour zone. When one of the two officers in the squad car ran her license information, he discovered that Ms. Perry had unpaid Princeton parking tickets from 2012 and was driving on a suspended license. Because of these factors, there was an outstanding warrant for her arrest.

Following policy and state law, she was arrested, handcuffed, and taken into custody, where she remained handcuffed until she paid her fines and was released. After Ms. Perry complained on social media about her treatment, Princeton Police Chief Nicholas Sutter turned the matter over to the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office.

Ms. Perry, who is black, closed her Twitter account last week because of  harassment and fears of hacking. She reopened it briefly this week to post another letter, which she titled “The End,” in which she said she did not suggest, in her earlier posts, that racism was involved in the incident. “I have never said that in my case that there was necessarily racial bias at work,” she wrote. “I could not possibly know whether that was at issue. But I do know that I belong to the racial group to which this happens more frequently than any other.”

Ms. Perry’s letter goes on to say that she does not believe that “municipalities should generate revenue by using the police power to arrest.”

At a meeting of Princeton Council last week, members addressed this issue, suggesting there should be an effort to change the state law so that unpaid parking tickets do not lead to arrest. Chief Sutter said that was “part of the conversation.”

Council member Heather Howard, who is the governing body’s liaison to the police, said this week, “We have to ask the question: Are those the right protocols and are they consistent with our values? That’s a question of state law, not local policy. So going forward, do we want to be engaged in revisiting those rules?”

Ms. Howard praised the police’s handling of the incident. “I know that our police under Chief Sutter are incredibly committed to bias-free policing and have a record of outreach to the community and transparency in their actions,” she said. “I think he’s been open about these policies and I’m looking forward to hearing from the prosecutor. I’ve heard from many people in the community who have tremendous respect for our police and appreciate under Chief Sutter’s leadership the continual outreach and respect the police have for everyone in the community.”

After the arrest last week, University President Christopher Eisgruber expressed his concerns about the incident in an open letter to The Daily Princetonian. Ms. Perry thanked him and her colleagues, students, and staff members for their support in her letter this week. “In addition, I was sustained by the supportive letters and notes of hundreds of professors at other universities as well as many activists, writers, lawyers, artists, members of my various communities, as well as friends and family,” she wrote. “I also want to thank members of the Princeton Township and broader Central New Jersey community who shared stories of similar circumstances to mine with different outcomes, as well as observations of racial disparities in policing.”

Ms. Perry, who said in her letter that she is okay with the case being closed by the prosecutor’s office, could not be reached for comment. A Princeton University spokesperson said the school had no further comment in the matter.