NEWARK, N.J. — Despite the torrential rain outside, Newark residents filed into St. Stephen’s Church, in the heart of the city’s multiethnic Ironbound neighborhood, last Monday night for a meeting with Peter Harvey, the federal monitor assigned to oversee the implementation of court-ordered reforms by the Newark Police Department.
Newark was one of 14 police departments to enter into consent decrees with the Department of Justice during the Obama administration as a result of investigations into unconstitutional practices by police in cities across the country. Now, that department is led by an outspoken opponent of police oversight: Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Law-enforcement agencies, local judicial systems and civil-rights advocates are all looking for signs of how the change in leadership will play out in cities under consent decrees — and in those without them as well.
In late March, Sessions issued a memo ordering a broad review of all the department’s existing investigations, training, compliance reviews and other engagements with local law enforcement agencies — including “existing or contemplated consent decrees” — to ensure that they do not undermine the Trump administration’s law and order agenda.
Harvey had been slated to discuss the findings of his first quarterly report on the Newark department’s progress. But he was met with repeated accounts of abuses at the hands of the department he was monitoring — including threats, harassment and physical assault against civilians.
“He kicked the door in, as if he was my personal enemy,” said Julio Sancho, describing an encounter with a Newark police officer who’d become aggressive after Sancho, an Ecuadorian immigrant who has lived in Newark for 17 years, questioned the officer about why he was ticketing cars across the street. With the help of an English translator, Sancho described in Spanish how the officer proceeded to physically assault him, pepper-spraying his…