Pubdate: Tue, 02 Mar 1999
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer (PA)
Copyright: 1999 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.
Author: Tom Avril, Douglas A. Campbell and Suzette Parmley, INQUIRER STAFF


TRENTON -- A day after Gov. Whitman ousted Col. Carl A. Williams as the head
of the New Jersey State Police for saying that the drug trade is handled
mostly by minorities, a top black leader and Democratic legislators demanded
that she delay the nomination of her attorney general to the state Supreme
Court until his office completes a review of the force. She refused to take
that step but continued to fault Williams' comments as being insensitive. In
an interview, she declined to discuss whether his remarks were factually
correct, but said they damaged the credibility of the state police. "I'm not
arguing with what he was saying. I'm arguing with how he said it, and when
he said it, and the way he said it," Whitman said in an interview in her

Her remarks were echoed by a former state police superintendent and the head
of the state Fraternal Order of Police, as they danced uneasily around the
thorny issues of race and crime.

Williams' ouster was hailed by civil-rights advocates and Democratic
lawmakers, but they warned that the problem runs deeper than the remarks of
one man. Several called for a delay in the nomination of Williams' boss,
Attorney General Peter Verniero, as a state Supreme Court justice -- a
position that Whitman said last week she would like him to have. And Sen.
John Adler (D., Camden) went so far as to demand Verniero's resignation.

Verniero called Williams' comments insensitive and inappropriate, but he
said he looked forward to the confirmation process in the state Senate. A
spokesman for Whitman said the governor was not going to reconsider or delay
Verniero's nomination.

Williams' forced resignation Sunday afternoon came after his comments were
published in that day's Star-Ledger of Newark, touching off a renewed
firestorm of the kinds of criticisms that have dogged the state police for
years. He reiterated that the state police do not promote or condone "racial
profiling" -- targeting someone as a crime suspect because of race -- but
said that drug trafficking is often done by Jamaicans and other minorities.

"Today with this drug problem, the drug problem is cocaine or marijuana,"
Williams was quoted as saying in the article. "It is most likely a minority
group that's involved with that."

Whitman said those remarks damaged the agency's credibility at a time when
it is already under review, both by the Attorney General's Office and the
Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department.

"The fact that he couldn't understand that the kinds of comments he was
making could be taken as being racially divisive was a level of
insensitivity that just wasn't going to cut it anymore," the governor said.

Whitman declined to identify any candidates who might succeed Williams, but
said she will look both inside and outside the agency and will focus on
people from New Jersey. Williams' deputy, Lt. Col. Michael Fedorko, is
serving as acting superintendent.

A spokesman for Williams and Fedorko said they would not comment on the

Whitman said the new superintendent must be someone who understands a
"quasi-military" organization such as the state police, someone who knows
law enforcement and the judicial system, and "someone with good diplomatic
skills who can communicate."

At a news conference yesterday afternoon, the Rev. Reginald T. Jackson,
executive director of the Black Ministers Council of New Jersey, said
Verniero's confirmation to the Supreme Court should be delayed until his
office's review of the state police is completed. If that review indicates
Verniero bears responsibility for state police problems, Mr. Jackson said,
the council will oppose his confirmation as a justice.

Mr. Jackson and the council had called for Williams' resignation or removal,
but the minister said he was saddened when he read Williams' comments

The minister said there still need to be other changes in the state police
leadership. "It became clear to us that the problems . . . are deep and
pervasive," he said. With attitudes such as those expressed by Williams, Mr.
Jackson said, "it is difficult for me to believe that . . . has not trickled
down" throughout the 2,600 state troopers.

The council met with some troopers last week, Mr. Jackson said, and
"discussed some things which are very troubling. We are concerned that this
selection of trooper of the year[the division's highest award]is based
solely on arrests, and arrests that sometimes are bogus."

Mr. Jackson said the council recommends that Whitman not rush to hire a
replacement for Williams. He said the council "insists" that the new
superintendent come from outside New Jersey and have no ties to the New
Jersey State Police.

The council has been pushing for an investigation of the state police since
two troopers fired on a van carrying four unarmed young minority men on the
New Jersey Turnpike on April 23. Three of those men were wounded. Meanwhile
the American Civil Liberties Union said yesterday that it has joined private
attorneys to expand a 1998 suit by two out-of-state lawyers into a
class-action suit accusing the state police of racial profiling.

The original suit was filed Oct. 30 in Middlesex County Superior Court on
behalf of Laila Maher, 31, and friend Felix Morka, 32. Maher is a native of
Egypt and Morka is a Nigerian national. Both were law students then.

Maher and Morka allege they were stopped on Jan. 16, 1996, near Exit 8A of
the turnpike by two troopers who, they assert, assaulted them and then
laughed about it. The suit says one trooper banged Morka's head against the
steering wheel as he reached into his hip pocket for his license. The suit
adds that this scared Maher, who jumped out of the passenger side and found
herself staring into the barrel of a gun.

While Whitman declined to address the substance of Williams' remarks, others
were willing.

Justin Dintino, who was New Jersey State Police superintendent from 1990 to
1994, said on Sunday that Williams in fact may have been correct if he was
basing the remarks on police intelligence reports.

However, Dintino said, Williams erred in failing to make a distinction
between the crime statistics and illegal profiling, a distinction that
Dintino said must be made to maintain public confidence by rooting out abuse
of the tactic.

"Random stops are the root of the problem," he said. "Target cocaine cartels
and money-laundering operations, not this nickel and dime[traffic
arrests]that have no significance on the drug problem in New Jersey."
Another police official said it was the timing of Williams' comments, not
the substance, that did him in.

Williams' comments were "the result of actual arrests and investigations. .
. . I don't think profiling had anything to do with the remarks," said Rick
Whelan, president of the New Jersey Fraternal Order of Police, which
represents about 14,000 officers in the Garden State.

According to the 1997 Uniform Crime Report issued by the State Police,
32,456 whites and 32,863 blacks were arrested that year for drug violations.
Whelan said he believed Williams was "scapegoated for political reasons,"
rather than for whether his comments were true or not. He suggested that
Whitman, who is considering a run for the U.S. Senate next year, may be
trying to placate African American constituents.

"Nobody knows what she is doing in the next couple years, and the group
making the demand is saying thanks for responding to[us]," he said.

"I would be among the last to shed a tear for Carl Williams," wrote
Assemblyman LeRoy J. Jones Jr. (D., Essex) in a letter to Senate Judiciary
Chairman William Gormley (R., Atlantic), "but I can't help think that he has
become an easy scapegoat in the saga of the more troubling racial profiling

Inquirer staff writer Thomas Ginsberg contributed to this article.

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