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Three Fort Lee Police Officers Suspended After Leaving Teens Locked In Police Van For Hours

Mayor calls situation a “mistake beyond words,” and says an exhaustive investigation is underway.

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.

Debra Ruth Weinberg March 29, 2011 at 11:50 PM
Were the police officers under the influence also?
Jason March 30, 2011 at 01:31 AM
I would like to start off by saying my father was a cop in Fort Lee. I know them all. Not one of them is capable of doing anything like this maliciously! Remember we are all human and make mistakes. No mater how big or small. My thoughts go out to the guys involved. Jay Yoc
Andrea March 30, 2011 at 06:52 PM
There is no doubt that this was inexcusable but isn't anyone concerned about why the parents did not know that their children were missing for 14 hours? If this happened at 1:30 am and they were locked in a van for 12-14 hours wasn't there anyone who was concerned about their child not coming home or hearing from them until the next afternoon? I think that this brings another big problem to the surface which is the lack of parenting. I assume these are "teens" that were living in a home with their parent or parents. There is some blame to go around there as well.
Marc Leibman March 30, 2011 at 06:56 PM
The cops should be Federally Prosecuted for official misconduct, unlawful detention, kidnapping and civil rights violations. Do you really think the cops "forgot" about them? Come on. There has to be more then 3 cops in on this little game too.
Debra Ruth Weinberg March 30, 2011 at 09:39 PM
Not judging. Just trying to get the info.The parents should of called. My daughter disappeared after a FL party. I made an amber. The FL police found her the next day. Thank God. I lost contact with her in the early am. Still don't know where she was. Everyone is safe. That's what's important.
Nancy Dougherty March 30, 2011 at 10:18 PM
As one of the parents of the boys involved, I assure you my husband and I were frantic. We had been making phone calls to all of my son's friends and driving around Fort Lee all morning. I was actually on my way to the police station when the call came that he was there. Ironically, if I had gone earlier and reported him missing, the police would not have been able to tell me that he had been picked up at the party, because they never took the kids' names while they were in the truck.
Nancy Dougherty March 30, 2011 at 10:32 PM
I'm tired of people who feel qualified to mouth off about events of which they have only peripheral knowledge. You have no idea what the parents of the children involved were thinking or doing. You can see my response to another person below and thank your lucky stars that your child wasn't involved. I also don't think we should be opining on the police investigation until we know the outcome and what actions will be taken.
Tom March 30, 2011 at 11:22 PM
I believe that we should let the Police Department perform their investigation before anyone rushes to judgment. As most of you are aware newspapers like an exciting story without knowing all the facts. If it were my child involved in a party where alcohol and drugs were allegedly used, I would be concerned about my child's choice of friends. When I was a teen growing up in Fort Lee, my parents always knew where I was going when I went out.
Tom March 31, 2011 at 01:32 PM
Hey Larry, Time to switch to decaf.
Carol Chambers March 31, 2011 at 10:43 PM
Thank you for posting your comments because you are living proof as to what happens when parents are not capable of raising their children properly. You really should be used as a role model as to what happens to someone who is raised with no values or morals. You've got alot of class I am sure your family is really proud of you!
Larry March 31, 2011 at 11:44 PM
Hmmm..Letting the police department perform an investigation on other police officers accused of misconduct. Isn't that kinda like asking the wolf to guard the chicken coop?
Larry March 31, 2011 at 11:58 PM
Carol, I believe what you meant to say was we are living proof OF what what happens when parents are not capable of raising their children properly, and that we really should be used as a MODEL (not a role model) OF what happens to someone who is raised with no values or morals. Clearly, you are not an English teacher. Also, you did not specify WHOSE comments you were talking about. Do all of us (except you, of course) have no class, morals or values, or is it just a few posters that have you with your panties in a bunch? Inquiring minds want to know
Erik Wander (Editor) April 01, 2011 at 01:48 AM
Thank you, Carol, for bringing us back to the topic at hand: Five teens forgotten in a police van for hours, three officers suspended and an ongoing investigation.
Don Harris April 02, 2011 at 01:24 AM
I hope I get this right otherwise some idiot would have to add a crass comment. Five teenagers locked in a van OUTSIDE police headquarters. Were they gagged? Were their feet and hands tied together? Hmmm! Can't believe they stayed quiet in the COLD and not eating for hours. Five yelling and stomping teenagers could be heard for blocks even in a windowless van. Maybe they were told to be quiet and THEY listened. Not ! Before the simple minded condemn the entire police department the next time you have an emergency call the teenages for help. I have in the space of 62 years met great police officers and a few rotten ones. Don't group them together. People, think before you respond. It does help.
jimmy April 03, 2011 at 01:36 AM
Ya gotta wonder what the coppers have on the mayor for them to get a 2 day suspension ''with pay'' . Think they'll learn lesson from that punishment ? I also love how the fort lee police dept. is going to investigate the fort lee police dept.. anybody think they're going to say these kids civil rights were violated ? I don't know weather the police actions were malicious or not but the mayor sounds terrified to take on 3 policemen lack of supervision while having no problem calling out the parent's lack of supervision, not exactly leadership material !!
jimmy April 03, 2011 at 01:44 AM
mr. harris is it your belief that the children wanted to stay in the van for 15 hours in 20 degree weather with no food, water or toilet ? How do you know that it wasn't their yelling and stomping that finally got them released ?
Carol Chambers April 03, 2011 at 02:07 AM
Jimmy, I am not sure where you came up with the 2 day suspension? Are you reading something no one else has seen? The Mayor in his interview did not sound terrified to me at all he sounded very intent on getting answers. Internal Affairs ...thus the word "internal".
jimmy April 04, 2011 at 07:40 PM
to carol chambers ..the original article in the bergen record said the officers were given a 2 day suspension ''with pay'' but for some unbeknown reason they left that out of this article. The mayor sounded very intent on getting answers to you ? ok, but it sounded more like a politician trying to cover his butt to me.
Carol Chambers April 04, 2011 at 11:36 PM
I have not read anywhere that it was 2 days suspension Jimmy. I would actually even go so far as to say the Mayor seemed quite disturbed and made absolutely no excuses. I think Mayor Sokolich sounds much more like a concerned parent and citizen than a politician at all times.
jimmy April 04, 2011 at 11:51 PM
Lawyer: NJ Cops Left 5 Teens Locked In Police Van March 30, 2011 11:45 AM Print Share 9 Generic Police Photo (credit: Clipart.com) Generic Police Photo (credit: Clipart.com) FORT LEE, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Officials were investigating how officers in northern New Jersey forgot about five teenagers locked up in a police van. Fort Lee’s attorney said the commanding officer of the shift and two other officers have been suspended with pay. Lawyer Lee Cohen told The Record newspaper there was a serious error. The teens were among a group of 20 who were rounded up after neighbors complained about a house party early Saturday. Cohen said the five were left behind when the van reached police headquarters. One of the teens, Adam Kim, said in an e-mail that he and four other boys were “stranded” for more than 14 hours with no food, water or cellphones. The boys said they were released after an officer heard them making noise.
Carol Chambers April 05, 2011 at 12:03 AM
Jimmy , were you directing the above quote to me? I still see no 2 day suspension. I see a commanding officer and two others have been suspended. ??? Maybe the Record had a misprint or possibly you misread the article?
jimmy April 05, 2011 at 12:11 AM
well that article from cbs news said they were suspended with pay, and i thought that would have sufficed ..the bergen record said it was 2 days
Carol Chambers April 05, 2011 at 01:02 AM
Maybe that is why we should all just wait for the facts before we judge. Suspended with pay is common until someone is proven guilty. I am sure that there will be just punishment if the investigation warrants it. I am also sure that underage kids will continue to put themselves in harms way drinking and doing drugs and having very little parental supervision.
jimmy April 05, 2011 at 01:26 AM
I agree somewhat. They shouldn't have been suspended until they had their full say and the facts came out, especially if its w/pay . I know one of the officers and don't believe he would ever have left the kids in the van on purpose, so again it looks more like the mayor suspended them to make it look like he was taking action but not hurting the officers in any way . In other words trying to please both parties, although its obvious the parents of these kids aren't accepting the 2 day vacation.

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