State Police investigate arrest of protesters at Corzine talk

State Police investigate arrest of protesters at Corzine talk

Friday, January 25, 2008  Star-Ledger

State Police Superintendent Rick Fuentes yesterday ordered his division's internal affairs unit to investigate the arrest Saturday of two protesters at Gov. Jon Corzine's town hall meeting in Cape May County.

"The superintendent has ordered the review and wants to have definitive answers," said Capt. Al Della Fave, a State Police spokesman. Investigators "are looking into what transpired. It's the responsible thing to do."

Conservative activist and former gubernatorial candidate Steve Lonegan and Atlantic City area radio personality Seth Grossman were arrested by local police Saturday outside Middle Township High School.

After four days of public scrutiny, the township and school district announced Wednesday night they were urging the municipal prosecutor to drop the charges. In a joint statement, they also blamed the arrests on event-security guidelines issued by the State Police.

Della Fave said he could not discuss specifics about the guidelines issued Saturday because the incident was under review. Corzine and his aides have repeatedly denied any role in the arrests.

Yesterday, Corzine spokeswoman Lilo Stainton said only: "We welcome this investigation."

Lonegan has become the most vocal and visible critic of Corzine's plan to restructure state finances and enact big toll hikes on the New Jersey Turnpike, Garden State Parkway and Atlantic City Expressway.

Yesterday, the former mayor of Bogota in Bergen County said he "would like to bring the focus back on the governor's toll road scheme. This is creating too much of a distraction."

Lonegan acknowledged the publicity surrounding his arrest has helped get attention for his cause and he will continue speaking out against Corzine's proposal.

The activist was charged with defiant trespass because he refused to limit his protest to an area designated by the police. Grossman was arrested for attempting to carry a sign into the forum despite a rule banning placards.

Middle Township Police Chief Joseph Evangelista said he is also reviewing the incident to determine "how we should do these kinds of events again." As for the State Police inquiry, he said: "We have nothing to hide. We'll be glad to talk to them."

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