Advocates for Black shooting victim push police transparency

Maurice Gordon unbuckles his seatbelt before exiting a New Jersey State Trooper's vehicle in Bass River, N.J. Gordon was fatally shot by the state trooper.

In this image taken from May 23, 2020, video released by the New Jersey Attorney General's Office, Maurice Gordon, of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., unbuckles his seatbelt before exiting a New Jersey State Trooper's vehicle in Bass River, N.J. Gordon was fatally shot by the state trooper. (New Jersey Attorney General's Office via AP)

The attorney for the family of a Black man fatally shot by a New Jersey state trooper this year called on lawmakers to pass legislation making more police records public along with the support of more than 100 groups on Tuesday.

Attorney William Wagstaff represents the family of Maurice Gordon, who was fatally shot during a traffic stop in May. Gordon’s death came two days before George Floyd’s death, which touched off protests across the country.

The letter is addressed to Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, both Democrats and calls for public access to a range of police records. The groups who signed on include the American Civil Liberties Union, churches, chapters of the NAACP and others.

“What unites us is the belief that transparency is critical to answering the calls for change that have echoed across our state and nation in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and just days earlier, Maurice Gordon in New Jersey,” the letter says.

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The letter also says the “consequences of this secrecy” disproportionately affects Black and Latino communities and allow the police to police themselves.

Spokesmen for Sweeney and Coughlin said they would review the letter and the proposed legislation, which would require the public release of police disciplinary records. Police unions have fought against their release, opposing an order for the release of some records by Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.

A New Jersey appeals court last week sided with Grewal in that dispute, though an attorney for a union representing retired state troopers said his client was reviewing the opinion for a possible appeal.

The legislation that Gordon’s lawyer and the groups are pushing seems to go farther than Grewal’s order. It would classify disciplinary records, complaints, the transcripts of hearings and other documents as government records. The public is able to access such records under the state’s Open Public Records Act.

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Gordon died after the May 23 encounter with a state trooper in Bass River. About a dozen audio and video recordings from the stop show a New Jersey state trooper firing his handgun six times, killing Gordon after struggling with him on the side of the Garden State Parkway.

The case involving the trooper and Gordon must go before a grand jury under a 2019 law aimed at holding law enforcement accountable. It’s unclear whether that’s happened or what the outcome was.

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