MAPLEWOOD, N.J. — Jason McDougall, 17, was 16-years-old when he says police officers body-slammed him, sprayed him in the face with mace and repeatedly hit him. He graduated from high school today and then stood beside his attorney for a press conference to announce a federal civil lawsuit against the Maplewood Police Department.
“He was viscously attacked from behind by officers," stated his attorney, Robert Tarver. "He was punched in the head no less than 13 times, while on the ground and while being restrained by all these officers."
Tarver said police tried to ‘secure their borders’ when black teens congregated for the town’s Independence Day fireworks on July 5, 2016.
Video shows a large group of police officers encircling and following a large group of young people. The officers walk behind the teens, before suddenly converging on McDougall.
Tarver said officers also slung racial epithets at his client.
"And in fact specifically was told to get his n****r a** on the sidewalk," he stated. "The decision to herd him or move him out of Maplewood was a decision to send him into another town, away from his home."
McDougall is Maplewood resident. He lives just a few blocks from where the incident occurred. Tarver said the teens were herded into neighboring Irvington.
"We have a problem whenever there is an assemblage of young black youth," said Walter Fields, chairman of the South Orange-Maplewood Black Parents Workshop and a former political director for the NAACP. "That automatically, they are targeted and criminalized."
McDougal’s attorney is also calling for an investigation by the United States Attorney General's Office for federal civil rights violations.
The Essex County Prosecutor's Office did investigate this incident, but they did not find enough evidence to bring criminal charges against any officers.
"Police have put out the tale that there was a fight that occurred, that hasn’t appeared on any video," pointed out Thomas Whitaker, founder of the Maplewood-South Orange Freedom School. "The police are trying to cover up the crime against Jason."
McDougall's attorney also questioned why it took the municipality so long to release video of the incident. He said the 1-year statue of limitations has now passed for criminal charges. The federal lawsuit they are pursuing is civil.
Maplewood did suspended officers involved in the incident, including the police chief.
PIX11 reached out to the department for comment today.