Reverend’s Eyewitness Account: City Vehicle at Fault in Motorcycle Death; Community Leaders Call for Answers on the Day of Waddy’s Funeral
Friday, April 27, 2012 • 10:41am
PATERSON, NJ – The Rev. Stafford Miller knew something was wrong when he heard the siren coming from the beat-up white jeep that he said he saw speeding erratically as it turned right from Arch Street onto N. 1st Street.
The siren had a “cheap” sound to it, unlike what he normally hears from city police vehicles, Miller said. Also, the jeep was rundown and not in the condition he has come to expect from the Paterson Police Department, he said.
The jeep, with two men inside, seemed to be following a motorcycle, Miller said. The pastor got inside his vehicle, he said, and started to follow the jeep.
Suddenly, less than a block away, Miller said he saw a cloud of dust ahead of him. At the corner of Jefferson and N. 1st streets, Miller said he came upon the motorcycle turned on its side, its driver laying beneath it with his helmet still on. “The jeep was nowhere in sight,’’ said Miller.
Miller said he gave his eyewitness account of the circumstances involving the April 17 crash that killed 31-year-old Randolph Waddy to investigators from the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office on Thursday. He recounted what he saw during an interview with PatersonPress.com on Friday morning.
The jeep that Miller described was the Paterson Office of Emergency Management (OEM) vehicle that city officials have said was driven by a city auxiliary police officer. “It was clear the driver of the jeep caused the accident,’’ said Miller, a member of Paterson’s Cease Fire community group that works closely with the city’s police department. “The motorcycle would not have crashed if it wasn’t for the jeep,’’’
Miller is pastor of St. Philip’s Ministry of the United Methodist Church is on N. 1st near where he said the vehicles turned from Arch Street. He said he was in his car outside the church that evening talking to a client from the church’s soup kitchen when he first heard the jeep’s siren. Miller said he saw the circumstances just before and after the fatal crash, but not the crash itself. Miller said he had told Councilman Aslon Goow what he had seen several days ago and Goow put the county investigators in touch with him.
The day after the fatal crash, the city suspended the operations of the auxiliary police, according to Paterson Police Director Glenn Brown.
But authorities have not revealed any details of their investigation, not even whether the auxiliary police officer who was driving the city OEM vehicle has been questioned by detectives.
“Again, because the investigation is ongoing, I most respectfully have no comment,’’ said Passaic County Chief Assistant Prosecutor James Wilson.
The lack of information on the investigation has fueled a growing sense of distrust among city residents and community activists, one that grassroots leaders warn could erupt in violence if city and county officials don’t begin providing answers.
On Tuesday, an angry and frustrated crowd of more than 150 people overflowed from the City Council chambers as they protested the lack of apparent progress in the investigation. Community leaders say they are concerned that Friday night’s funeral for Waddy could set off trouble.
“People can get overwhelmed, there’s no telling where this might lead,’’ said the Rev. James Staton, another member of the Cease Fire group and pastor of the Church of God and Saints of Christ in the 1st Ward. “It’s hard to be calm when they don’t give you any sense of hope.’’
Staton and Miller are urging city officials to take a more active role in communicating with the 1st Ward community on the circumstances of Waddy’s death.
“Our elected officials have stepped back and aren’t showing the leadership we need,’’ said Staton. “They need to show the community the process is working.’’’
Staton said Patersonians would feel better if officials simply would say that the auxiliary police are being questioned in the case. Staton accused authorities of using a double standard in the way they are handling the investigation involving a city auxiliary police officer. “If it were reversed, somebody would be arrested by now, or at least brought in for questioning,’’ Staton said.
Officials have confirmed that a city auxiliary police officer drove away from the scene of the crash. But they have not said exactly how the crash happened. Some community activists assert the city vehicle actually hit Waddy’s motorcycle. At the least, activists assert, the city vehicle caused Waddy’s crash by speeding towards him.
The two clergymen expressed concerns about the well-being of the auxiliary officers, as well as for others who might be mistaken for them.
One of Waddy’s siblings said Tuesday night that he had the names of the two officers involved in the crash. (PatersonPress.com has decided not to publish the names until they are confirmed by an official source.) The names provided by the sibling were Latino and the pastors say Waddy’s friends and family members believe the officers were Latino.
“We don’t want to see any attacks on Latino men in the city,’’ said Staton.
“The last thing we want is an innocent person to get hurt because of this,’’ said Miller. “Let’s be transparent.’’
Several of the protesters at City Hall on Tuesday emphasized that the community was trying to allow the criminal justice to take place. “I was proud of our community,’’ said Miller. “They showed a sense of dignity. They showed a sense of control. They showed a sense of honor.’’
But activists also have said that the potential for trouble grows as each day passes without authorities taking public action on the case. Staton compared the Waddy case with the killings of African-American youths in Garfield and Florida, one involving law enforcement officers and the other involving a neighborhood watch volunteer.
“Here we go again,’’ said Staton. “We had Garfield. We had Florida. Now this.’’