Three Fort Lee Police Officers have been suspended after an incident Saturday in which police left five teenagers locked in a police van after breaking up a house party, Mayor Mark Sokolich said.
The five minors were left “forgotten” in the van outside police headquarters in freezing temperatures for more than 14 hours, according to a report by NBC New York. NBC reported that police broke up the party in response to complaints of noise from neighbors at 1:30 a.m. Saturday, and that officers became aware of the error when a passing officer heard screams and banging coming from the van.
“Words can’t describe my feelings about this, except to tell you this is a mistake beyond words,” Sokolich said. “And we’re going to deal with it.”
Sokolich said he could not confirm the NBC report, and would not provide the address of the house where the party took place nor the amount of time the teens were locked in the van.
Sokolich did, however, confirm that the number of teens locked in the van was five.
He said there were “many” kids at the party, which he described as “raucous.”
“I’m told that there was underage drinking,” Sokolich said. “I’m told that there was [other controlled substances] visible to the officers. It wasn’t a good party. I’m told that there was a lack of adult supervision.”
According to interviews with the mothers of high school students who were not at the party, most of the teens who were there were 17 or 18 years old. They said the parents who lived at the residence, on Arcadian Way, were out of town.
Andy, one of the five students held in the van, told the Bergen Record in an e-mail that about half of the group of minors in the van were taken into the police station. But the five teens were left in the van, “with no food, or water [with] 20-degree weather, for nearly 14-15 hours,” Kim wrote, according to the Record. “The police forgot about us."
Mayor Sokolich said he's called for “sweeping, sweeping investigations.”
“[The investigations] are going to be conducted swiftly. They’re going to be intense. They’re going to be complete,” Sokolich said. “And I can assure you that at the conclusion of this investigation action will be taken, and we’ll make sure that this will never, ever occur here in Fort Lee.”
Sokolich said the three officers, whose names he would not provide, citing the ongoing investigation, were suspended with pay “because we’ve not conducted a hearing yet.”
“But we’re in the process of conducting interviews [and] obtaining statements,” Sokolich said. “We’re in touch with all the appropriate agencies.”
He also said he’s meeting with a group of parents and community leaders Tuesday “just to give them an update.”
“This is an ongoing investigation, and it involves minors, so as a consequence, to a certain extent I’m constrained on what I can say publicly,” Sokolich said. “But I can assure you that I am dealing with this on virtually a minute-by-minute basis with constant updates, and we’ve got to deal with it.”
Police Chief Thomas Ripoli declined comment on the incident.