Transparency is all Paul Pierson wants from the Hopewell Township Police Department. And he’s taking his case right to the building’s front door.
Pierson organized the Hopewell Township Rally for Police Accountability, set for June 13 starting at 1 p.m. in the parking lot of the township municipal complex parking lot. He set up the peaceful protest in honor of his brother-in-law, Michael Sherman, who has been an officer with the HTPD for over 20 years.
Sherman, who is black, sued the department for discrimination in 2019 after facing years of harassment. He was the subject of racist jokes and remarks and overheard a number of racist comments during his time with the HTPD. One of the primary offenders was named in the lawsuit as Lt. Christopher Kascik, who is now retired. Sherman repeatedly reported the harassment to high-ranking officers.
The recent deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot and killed by two white men while out on a jog, and George Floyd, the Minnesota resident who was killed by Minneapolis Police Department officer Derek Chauvin he held his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, spurred Pierson to speak up. He was also moved by the story of Christian Cooper, a Black man who was birdwatching in Central Park when Amy Cooper, a white woman, called the police on him without reason.
“It’s those implied biases,” Pierson, a 15-year Air Force veteran, said. “I began to have these internal conflicts about everything I believed in for this country that I was willing to die for. It also started with some other conversations I was seeing on Facebook. I said, ‘Enough is enough.’ I needed to do something.”
So Pierson organized the rally and started to spread the word.
“It’s more than just protesting,” he said. “It’s not a march, but it’s a rally for accountability, for the department to take ownership of its actions. It starts at the top. When we walk about systemic racism and what’s happening, we believe it starts at the top when something is reported and still nothing is done. We need to take a stand and let people know that it’s happening in your backyard. A lot of people just don’t know.”
The matter has not been resolved, and Sherman has not been allowed to get back to work, Pierson said.
“He’s fit for duty,” he said. “Let him return to work. If there are no issues, then he’s ready to work. He’s a police officer. That’s what he’s done for the last 20 years. Clear it up, and let him move on.”
Pierson, a Bordentown resident, said Sherman has not ever heard from his employer—about the lawsuit or otherwise—in over a year.
“If there has been an investigation, we want to see it,” Pierson said. “There is video footage. Release that to the public. That is what we’re asking for—transparency from the department that polices the community.”
That is what Pierson hopes comes from the rally. He wants accountability from the system, from police officers all the way up to the chief of police and the mayor. He wants the results of any internal or external investigation related to Sherman’s lawsuit to be released.
And he wants the rot in the department to be cleared. The rally had already been planned when five Hopewell Township Police Department officers, as well as another employee, were suspended earlier this week after posting and reacting to anti-Black Lives Matter sentiments—one of which called supporters of the movement “terrorists”—on Facebook, the Trentonian first reported.
“Ultimately, I believe that that police department needs to be rebuilt,” he said. “There is a problem in that department. Suspending the officers, that’s a start, but I believe if you’re the chief, if you’re the mayor, it starts with you. What happens from a leadership perspective? If they’re not going to say something, then what’s the problem? We need to continue to voice ourselves in a peaceful manner.”