Attorney general to N.J. state police: No photos of protesters

A woman shouts at Gov. Christie as South River police remove her from a town-hall-style meeting in South River recently. Christie blamed a union for the protest. (AP)
A woman shouts at Gov. Christie as South River police remove her from a town-hall-style meeting in South River recently. Christie blamed a union for the protest. (AP)
Posted: March 21, 2014

TRENTON New Jersey's acting attorney general has instructed state police to stop taking pictures at Gov. Christie's town-hall events, following reports that protesters at a Tuesday event in South River were photographed by a plainclothes officer.

State police "are careful to guarantee that First Amendment rights are respected, and the public - whether expressing positive or negative sentiments toward the governor and his policies - have ample opportunity to make their positions known.

"That said . . . I have instructed the state police to no longer photograph at these events for security or any other purposes," acting Attorney General John Hoffman said in a statement Wednesday.

The Associated Press and PolitickerNJ, a political-news website, reported Tuesday that a man in plainclothes had been taking pictures of protesters at the South River event, which was disrupted by more than a dozen people who rose and began chanting in unison about "corrupt uses" of Hurricane Sandy money.

The protesters - many of them Rutgers University students - were led out of the event by police.

The man taking photos later identified himself as a state police officer, according to the media reports.

Capt. Stephen Jones, a state police spokesman, said Wednesday that he could not confirm that the man taking pictures was a member of the state police. Jones also said he "could not confirm at this time" whether police had taken pictures at other town halls.

Following the reports, Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D., Bergen) called on Christie to repudiate what she called "a Nixonian tactic that has no place in New Jersey or anywhere else in this country."

"I can't imagine what rationalization the governor would have for allowing this to happen, but it comes across as an act of political intimidation," Weinberg said.

Kevin Roberts, a spokesman for Christie, said Wednesday that "security matters" at the town halls were determined by state police.

"The governor had no idea this was happening," Roberts said. He directed further questions to the attorney general's office.

Tuesday's town hall was the second in a week to be marked by disruption.

In Mount Laurel last week, six Rowan University students were escorted out by police after they began shouting at Christie. A student organizer with the union-backed New Jersey Working Families Alliance had approached some of the students about attending the event.

On Tuesday, the governor was prepared, telling the crowd that he expected an outburst. He blamed the Communications Workers of America, a union that represents state workers, and described the group as "people who we - we, collectively - have been standing up against for the last 41/2 years."

Many of the protesters were Rutgers University students, student Frangy Pozo said Wednesday. Pozo, a member of Rutgers Student Union, said 23 students from the campus group and Rutgers United Students Against Sweatshops attended the Tuesday town hall to protest reports that Sandy aid had gone to projects in communities little-impacted by the storm.

The students were not recruited by an outside group, including CWA or Working Families Alliance, Pozo said.

Not all the protesters were students. CWA released a statement Tuesday that did not address whether it had helped organize any protesters.

Rob Duffey, a spokesman for Working Families Alliance, said the group had e-mailed members and urged them to attend the event. The group has had a presence at all of the governor's town halls following the George Washington Bridge controversy, Duffey said.


mhanna@phillynews.com

609-989-8990

@maddiehanna

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