Morristown teen involved in violent Dover arrest enters plea deal

Assistant Public Defender Ana Tent and Cyprian Luke in Superior Court, June 17, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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Cyprian Luke, the Morristown teen roughed up during an arrest by Dover police last month, pleaded guilty Monday to hindering arrest and other charges in a deal with the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office.

In exchange for the plea, the prosecutor’s office agreed to downgrade an aggravated assault charge, dismiss five other charges including resisting arrest, and recommend probation when Superior Court Judge Stephen Taylor sentences Luke, 19, on July 19, 2019.

Separately, the state Attorney General’s Office continues to investigate Dover’s handling of the May 19 arrest, a spokesman said.

Superior Court Judge Stephen Taylor addresses defendant Cyprian Luke, June 17, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Video recorded by Luke’s friend and shared via social media shows Luke pinned to the ground by his neck and jabbed in the face by police, while being commanded to stop resisting arrest. Three Dover officers have been placed on paid leave while the matter is investigated.

At a heated public meeting in Dover last month, activists presented town officials with a statement demanding unpaid suspensions for the officers and their termination.

It was signed by dozens of individuals and organizations, including the Morris County branch of the NAACP, and Black Lives Matter and the Wind of the Spirit Immigrant Resource Center of Morristown.

Attorney Kisha Pinnock, an organizer of the activists, said Monday that Dover Mayor James Dodd has not responded to their demands.

Dover Public Safety Director Daniel DeGroot said the mayor intends to respond to the statement when the state investigation is concluded, upon advice from the town attorney.

Police said they had been seeking Luke on a warrant for aggravated assault. He subsequently was charged with resisting arrest and giving a false name.

Monday in Superior Court, Luke waived his right to a grand jury hearing and acknowledged hindering apprehension by giving police a false name, a disorderly persons offense.

“I was…frightened,” Luke said quietly to the judge, in Superior Court, Morristown.

The fourth-degree aggravated assault charge was amended to simple assault, also a disorderly offense. Luke admitted striking his girlfriend after she hit him during a dispute.

He also pleaded guilty to criminal mischief, another disorderly offense, for kicking the woman’s car door during an argument.

And Luke pleaded guilty to contempt of court –a fourth-degree crime–for having contact with the woman while he was awaiting trial in the assault case, in violation of a municipal judge’s conditions for pre-trial release.

Assistant Prosecutor Tia Manochio addresses court, as Assistant Public Defender Ana Tent and defendant Cyprian Luke, June 17, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

The prosecutor’s office agreed to drop charges of resisting arrest, another fourth-degree contempt two more simple assaults, a disorderly offense of harassment

Luke could face a maximum of 36 months in prison for the four charges (six months for each of the three disorderly offenses and 18 months for the contempt crime), with up to $13,000 in fines, on top of $700 in mandatory fees.

However, the contempt charge could be dropped if the state Supreme Court upholds a  challenge, from a separate case, to such penalties for violations of pretrial conditions, Judge Taylor said.

But Luke’s simple assault and criminal mischief convictions will bar him from owning firearms, the judge said.

“That will be forever?” Luke asked. Forever, Taylor answered.

Luke will get credit for time already served in the Morris County Jail. And he will be required to participate in social services programs with Caring Partners of Morris & Sussex, a nonprofit in Mt. Arlington, and another anger management program, Abuse Ceases Today, Taylor said.

At prior appearances before the judge, Luke was shackled at the hands and feet and clad in a prison jumpsuit, as many family members watched in the courtroom.

The crowd was much smaller this time. Luke’s grandfather sat in court as Luke, wearing civilian clothes, took his seat at the defense table next to Ana Tent from the Morris County Public Defender’s Office.  Last month, the judge released Luke to the custody of an aunt in Mine Hill, stipulating that Luke wear an electronic monitoring device.

Morris County Assistant Prosecutor Tia Manochio represented the state at Monday’s hearing.

This story has been updated to include information from Dover’s public safety director.

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