|Prosecutor Andrew C. Carey|
On June 4, 2016, the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office (MCPO) issued a press release that reported that Daniel Nagahama of Edison was pronounced dead on June 2, 2016, three hours after he had an encounter with Highland Park police. The press release did not report the names of the Highland Park officers with whom Nagahama had the encounter nor did it report what types of force, if any, the officers employed. All that was reported was that Nagahama became belligerent and struggled with police after they attempted to revive him, that he was not placed under arrest but was taken to the hospital by rescue workers.
In August 2016, Libertarians for Transparent Government, a New Jersey nonprofit organization (LFTG), represented by Hackensack lawyer CJ Griffin, filed a lawsuit against the MCPO seeking additional records that would disclose the names of the officers, the type of force they used and other details that would provide more details and give better context to Nagahama’s death. Details on that suit are set forth in this article.
On November 18, 2016, Middlesex County Assignment Judge Travis L. Francis ruled that the Use of Force reports completed by Highland Park officers were public records that needed to be disclosed. He ruled, however, that other requested records were exempt from disclosure. Later, Judge Francis stayed disclosure of the Use of Force Reports pending the Supreme Court’s ruling in North Jersey Media v. Lyndhurst where one of the issues to be decided was whether Use of Force Reports were exempt from disclosure.
On July 11, 2017, the Supreme Court decided in the Lyndhurst case that Use of Force reports are public records that must be disclosed under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA). Given that ruling, the MCPO released the Use of Force reports. The MCPO also agreed to pay $8,300 to cover LFTG’s court costs and attorney fees.
The Use of Force Reports, while sparse, do show that four Highland Park officers encountered Nagahama prior to his death: Sergeant Jason C. Culver and Patrolmen Brian O’Mara, Kevin M. Garrity and Christopher DeCosta. All four reported that Nagahama was arrested (contrary to the press release), that he was “under the influence” and “resisted police officer control.” All four also reported that they placed Nagahama in a “compliance hold” and used their “hands/fists” during the encounter. Additionally, O’Mara reported that he used a “chemical/natural agent” during his encounter with Nagahama.