Three Dover police officers involved with Sunday’s arrest of a Morristown teen–an arrest captured on video that has raised questions about excessive force–were placed on paid leave Monday while the state Attorney General’s office investigates.
Cyprian Luke, meanwhile, pleaded not guilty to the domestic violence charge that officials say led to his arrest. The 19-year-old, who appeared to have abrasions on his right cheek and around his nose, was returned to the Morris County Jail by Superior Court Judge Stephen Taylor, pending a Thursday hearing on whether to release him.
Video shot by Luke’s friend, and shared widely on social media, depicts police punching Luke’s face and pressing him to the ground with a choke hold while ordering him to stop resisting arrest.
The incident occurred around 2 am outside a Dover food store near police headquarters.
Police had responded to a tip that a fugitive in an aggravated assault case was in town, according to Mayor James P. Dodd, who held a press conference.
“I understand that we live in the age of social media where there is a tendency to rush to judgment; however, given the independent investigation now on-going, I urge everyone to show restraint until all of the facts come out and the independent investigation is completed,” said Dodd, noting he does not believe the “disturbing” altercation was racially motivated.
Dover police and officials are cooperating fully with authorities, the mayor said in a statement, asserting that “transparency in these matters is paramount.”
He only identified the officers placed on leave as a sergeant and two patrolmen; he said they sustained unspecified injuries while making the arrest.
The Morris County Prosecutor’s Office referred questions about the officers to the state Attorney General’s Office.
Those identities were not released on Monday. A spokeswoman for the Attorney General confirmed the incident will be investigated by the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability, and asked anyone with information to call 1-844-OPIA -TIP.
As of Monday, no charges relating to the arrest itself had been filed.
Luke is “a very energetic, outgoing person,” who was pursuing a high school equivalency degree, his father, Shawn Luke of Morristown, told Morristown Green.
Cyprian Luke previously underwent surgery to repair eye socket damage from another incident, said his father, expressing concerns that the teen may have suffered a concussion and brain damage from Sunday’s encounter with Dover police.
Mary Luke, the teen’s mother, was too distraught to comment inside the courthouse. Outside, she told reporters she was glad her son was alive. “It could have been worse,” she said.
The teen’s aunt, Rachelle Cruz of Dover, told Morristown Green that her nephew is “a really good kid, not a violent person.”
A Morris County grand jury indicted Cyprian Luke on a charge of third-degree aggravated assault, for allegedly grabbing the throat and / or “blocking the nose or mouth” of his former girlfriend, while “punching, kicking and shoving” her during an altercation in Boonton on Feb. 2, 2019.
Public Defender Tracy Denholtz entered a not guilty plea for Luke, who responded quietly to the judge’s questions. Luke wore a yellow prison jumpsuit and was shackled at the wrists and ankles.
Warrants from Morristown and Boonton accuse Luke of violating conditions of his pre-trial release on the assault charge.
On April 9, he was charged in Morristown with ignoring a judge’s orders to avoid contact with the girlfriend, and “placing his hands on her neck” in a way that caused pain, a fourth-degree offense. He also was accused of kicking the woman’s car door, a disorderly persons charge.
Subsequently, Luke was charged in Boonton with violating the no-contact order by texting, calling and visiting the girlfriend between April 26 and May 10. The woman, who has a child with Luke, sat in the courtroom on Monday. Luke appeared to give her a long look as sheriff’s officers led him from the hearing.
Based on the warrants, Morris County Assistant Prosecutor Tia Manochio told the judge, she will argue to keep Luke behind bars while his case unfolds.
The judge scheduled a June 17 hearing to determine how the case will proceed, and whether any plea deals will be offered.
Luke told the judge he was born in Maryland. In interviews, family members said he moved frequently in recent years and attended several schools, but not Morristown High School.
“He’s a good kid,” said his brother, Chris Luke, who turned 18 over the weekend. “Judging by the background, every kid makes mistakes. Everybody’s got mistakes.”
Activists demonstrated outside police headquarters on Sunday night.
Dodd, the Dover mayor, said he was proud of strides made by the police, and he vowed not to let the incident “blemish the reputation of the entire force.”
But he added: “I will not stand for or tolerate abuse of any kind from any officer towards a member of the public and if the investigation sustains that showing, swift action will be taken.”
This report has been updated to include information from Mayor Dodd’s press conference.