With just days to go before the May 14th municipal elections, it should come as no surprise that West New York Mayor Felix Roque and Public Safety Commissioner Gabriel Rodriguez are slugging it out again, this time over a questionable arrest caught on video.
On Saturday evening, Roque’s campaign released a video of a supporter, Dante Joa, being arrested after a confrontation with three police officers arose over some loud music being played outside his office at 5300 Bergenline Ave., as HCV first reported.
Police Director Robert Antolos said that the arrest appeared to follow the proper procedures and protocols and that the matter would be handled by internal affairs, but that wasn’t good enough for Roque, who blamed Rodriguez for the incident and even called for his resignation at a presser yesterday.
“What you’re seeing now is a complete deterioration of the way it used to be. I’m seeing systematic suppression, I’m seeing a systematic oppression, of our liberties here in West New York. Intimidation is daily now against campaign workers,” the mayor said, claiming that this is the third time something of this nature has happened this election cycle.
When asked about Antolos’ account of the event, as well as what active warrant Joa had against him (he was also charged with resisting arrest and obstruction of administration of law), Roque said he didn’t know the particulars and again expressed dismay over the situation.
“I don’t know what he’s talking about. All I can say is I have never, in eight years being the police commissioner, witness anything like I say on that video. And John, I find it distasteful … it hurts. It hurts that an elderly resident in West New York gets mistreated in that fashion.”
Roque said he was not going to rush to judgment in calling the incident a case of brutality, noting that he is supportive of the local police, but reiterated this was failed leadership by Rodriguez.
As a result, Rodriguez made himself available for media immediately afterwards at his headquarters, prompting a protest outside that included repeated chants of “Justice for Joa.”
Nevertheless, Rodriguez appeared undeterred, calling the matter another example of the mayor’s “lack of integrity and ethics.”
“It is clear that he is not concerned with how this effects not only the store owner, but the police officers involved. We’re talking about a mayor who said for almost eight years said that we have the best police department in the nation, now all of a sudden, he’s passing judgment.”
The commissioner also explained that the elected official in charge of public safety is in charge of overseeing budgetary and other governmental functions of the department, not in policing the streets or responding to emergencies.
When asked to respond to Roque’s claim that he was involved in getting the police to show up to Joa’s office, Rodriguez denied playing any role.
“I came to know of this incident, like most residents, via social media. I was nowhere near the area. I was unaware of the incident. I do know a resident put in a complaint for noise, and from what we see in the two video clips, the store owner seemed to be looking to instigate the police officers.”
Rodriguez continued that is appeared Joa was arrested when he appeared to put his hands on one of the officers at the scene, but also said he didn’t want to jump to conclusions and let internal affairs do their job.
With just over a week to go before the polls open, this likely isn’t the last sparring session between Roque and Rodriguez.