A confidential informant provided a video to police of a fight that broke out at Union City High School earlier this month, leading to seven students being arrested, with at least one individual expressing concern that the violence would escalate, according to police reports.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
“On Monday, January 13, 2020, I was contacted by Police Officer Vanderhorst in regards to this matter. P.O. Vanderhorst provided me with a video recording of a fight involving juveniles that took place after school hours,” Union City Police Officer Natasha Suarez wrote in a January 14th police report, part of an 80-page investigation.
“He then related to me that the individual who supplied the video was a confidential informant who refused to provide any additional information.”
As a result of reviewing the video, three juveniles were arrested – ages 14, 16, and 17 – “based on prior police encounters, Suarez wrote in her report.
A follow up at the high school the next day, January 15th, revealed that the student who was attacked by several people during the high school fight was also jumped near the intersection of Bergenline Avenue and 14th Street on January 14th, according to Suarez’s report.
Based on the victim’s account, authorities said that the victim was badly beaten during the initial incident, particularly after providing cover for a female friend who had also gotten struck.
The mother of the victim said she wanted to press charges against her son’s attackers, stating he was in fear for his friend’s life, the January 15th report from Suarez says.
Shortly after this, police identified four students at the Academy of Enrichment and Advancement as aggressors during both incidents, and later another three that attend Emerson Middle School, Police Officer Joseph Cazassa wrote in a January 15th report.
Another student from Union City High School was briefly detained and placed in a juvenile cell at police headquarters, but he was released and not charged after police determined he was not a part of either altercation, according to Cazassa’s report.
A subsequent report the next day, January 16th, indicates that one juvenile charged was taken to the Bergen County Juvenile Detention Center, with another taken to the Morris County Juvenile Detention Center.
A police report from the same day, this one written by Officer Blanca Ramos-Diaz, says that a student from Emerson High School, along with his mother, admitted he was part of the fight on Bergenline Avenue, expressing regret from being involved.
The mother and her son both noted that students tried to coax him into another fight, prompting worries that retaliation could be forthcoming.
“[The juvenile] stated that this situation is it [sic] getting bigger and bigger. [He] stated that he is concerned older people will get involved,” the police report says.
“[The mother] stated that she will help the police in anything that we need … [She] stated that she is afraid that something bad will happen to [her son] in retaliation of the fight on Monday, January 13th, 2020.”
The report log was obtained via an Open Public Records Act that cited Executive Order 69, implemented under Gov. Christine Todd Whitman (R).
The order calls for New Jersey law enforcement agencies to reveal the type of crime, time, location, and if a weapon is involved, as well as any information regarding subsequent arrests, be made public available within 24 hours of when the incident occurs.
HCV’s request was filed on January 22nd and wasn’t answered until January 30th, 192 hours after the records were sought and 17 days after the initial incident occurred.
Union City Clerk Erin Knoedler said that due to the number of juveniles involved, along with the size and scope of the request, it was not possible to provide all the relevant details of the case file within 24 hours.
“Had juveniles not been involved, the response would have been handled differently,” she said, in an email, also noting that she had initially indicated verbally that the incident revolved around a fight involving underage students and that state Attorney General guidelines had to be considered as well.