Vineland, New Jersey Mayor Ruben Bermudez has been criticized for not working with police enough after last month’s in-custody death. Further discontent arose from his meeting with Walter Hudson, an activist and “known agitator.”
Philadelphia Magazine reported that Phillip White was taken into police custody on March 31. Witnesses have stated that he resisted arrest and after a scuffle with police, he was transported to the hospital by ambulance. He was pronounced dead at the medical facility.
According to the statement of a masked person in a video released about a week after White’s death, Vineland Police officers beat, kicked and punched White until he was unconscious. He also stated a canine officer released a dog on the man, allowing it to bite at his face and body.
NJ.com reported that Bermudez met with Hudson last week to discuss police accountability and the possibility of a special committee to review police practices.
“Mr. Hudson asked me for a meeting and I agreed to meet with him to listen to his concerns,” said Bermudez in an email on Wednesday.
The mayor reiterated that he supports the police department and the proposed committee will be designed to help coordinate existing community service programs. Bermudez emphasized that it would not review actions of the law enforcement agency.
Also in attendance at the meeting with Hudson was Richard Rivera of the Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey. He said Bermudez gave no indication he was against the police department.
“He supports them unequivocally and it is irresponsible for people to talk about the meeting who were not there,” River said. “I give the mayor a lot of credit for his willingness to meet with anyone as an elected official. That’s his job.”
During Tuesday’s council meeting, City Council Vice President Paul Spinelli and Vineland Police Chaplain program member Frank Ippolito both criticized the mayor.
“I find it interesting the mayor has taken the side of an outsider activist who has come in to our city to tell us what and how the Vineland police should function, this without the participation of the chief or the safety director,” said Spinelli.
However, Rivera defended Hudson. Having worked with him for several years, he said, “I think Walter is sometimes misunderstood and painted very broadly. He has good intentions regarding Vineland and trying to work with people there.”
According to NJ.com, both Ippolito and Spinelli took a moment on Tuesday to declare support for the Vineland Police Department and asked the public to be patient while the investigation into White’s death continued.
“And I call on the residents of Vineland to resist forming opinions based upon deficient media reports and inflammatory, outside agitator groups,” Ippolito said. “We still have the presumption of innocence in America until there is proof to the contrary. I expect the mayor of any city to know that.”