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“Two Years Is Too Long”: Family of Carl Dorsey, Black Man Killed by NJ Police, Sues as Probe Drags On

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Image Credit: Madinah Person

Just after midnight on New Year’s Day of 2021, Newark police officer Rod Simpkins shot 39-year-old Carl Dorsey dead. Simpkins was in an unmarked police minivan and in plainclothes when he arrived at the scene after reportedly hearing gunshots. Within seconds of exiting his car, Simpkins fired his gun at Dorsey. It is unclear if he announced himself as a police officer. The family of the unarmed Black man killed that night is now suing the police and the city of Newark, frustrated that the investigation by the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office has dragged on for 20 months with no findings so far. “We’re demanding justice for my brother, and we need people to be accountable for what happened to him,” says Madinah Person, Dorsey’s sister. Larry Hamm, chair of the People’s Organization for Progress, says New Jersey Attorney General Matt Platkin owes the family and the wider community answers. “Two years is too long not to hear anything from the attorney general about this case,” says Hamm.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

The family of a Black man killed by Newark police while he was unarmed is demanding answers after the investigation into his death dragged on for nearly 20 months. The facts, they say, are clear: Carl Dorsey was shot dead just after midnight New Year’s Day 2021 by undercover police detective Rod Simpkins in Newark, New Jersey. Simpkins was in an unmarked police minivan and in plainclothes when he arrived at the scene after reportedly hearing gunshots. Within seconds of exiting his car, Simpkins fired his gun at Dorsey. It’s unclear if he first announced himself as a police officer.

Dorsey’s family says an investigation by New Jersey Attorney General’s Office has so far led nowhere. Now their attorney has filed a civil lawsuit against Simpkins and several other officers who were there that night, along with the Newark Police Department and its police chief, Darnell Henry, and the city of Newark. Robert Tarver is a former state prosecutor. He spoke Sunday to Democracy Now! about how the case seeks punitive damages and accuses police of excessive force.

ROBERT TARVER: We filed a lawsuit seeking damages under what’s called Section 1983 of the United States Code, which says that when an officer, acting under color of state law or federal law, takes a life or uses excessive force, unnecessary force, then he can be held liable for damages. We also sued under the New Jersey Civil Rights Act, which basically says the same thing, that where you violate the New Jersey state Constitution — and clearly they did here, because the Constitution gives you the right to liberty, which is life — when that happens, then we have the right to seek damages. …

Let’s put it into context. January the 6th, 2021, is when insurrection occurred in Washington, D.C. Since that time, we’ve had numerous investigations, numerous arrests. Numerous people have been prosecuted. Some have been to trial. We’re dealing with one incident here in New Jersey. And it’s one incident that is captured on video. And the Attorney General’s Office has done nothing to let this family know what the outcome is of their investigation.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Robert Tarver, the attorney for Carl Dorsey’s family. Democracy Now! spoke to him over the weekend. We also spoke to Carl’s lifelong friend, Nyeemah Dorsey-Bey, who described what it was like to lose him.

NYEEMAH DORSEY-BEY: He was a funny human being. He loved to draw. He loved to be with his family. He always tried to get everybody together for family functions, whether we had a dispute, whether we didn’t talk. He would try to get everybody together. You know what I mean? Because everybody, we only live once, but at the same time, we have to enjoy ourselves and each other while we have that time to do it. You know, Carl was a really strong family structure brother. It’s like there’s no more I can say about that. Like, he was well loved, definitely. He’s the oldest brother out of all of us. I’m the second oldest. I’m about to get emotional, I’m so sorry, because every — just bringing it up just makes me — I’m sorry.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by two guests. In Newark, New Jersey, Madinah Person is the sister of Carl Dorsey, the unarmed African American killed by an undercover Newark police detective on January 1st, 2021. In New York City, Larry Hamm, chair of the People’s Organization for Progress.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Larry, if you can start off by talking about the whole case and the protests that you’ve been holding, demanding answers?

LARRY HAMM: Well, as you know, Amy — and thank you for inviting me on this morning — Carl Dorsey was killed on January 1st, 2021. He was killed by detective Simpkins. And immediately, there were demonstrations organized by groups in Newark, including the People’s Organization for Progress. And since that time, we’ve been working closely with Madinah, who is on this morning, with Carl’s stepdad, Abdul Mohammad, and the family. And we support the family in their struggle for justice.

In New Jersey, there’s an independent prosecutor bill, so when local police kill someone, that case is no longer taken by the county prosecutor. That case is taken over but the Attorney General’s Office. And the Attorney General’s Office has had this case, as you said earlier, Amy, for almost two years, going on 20 months now. In that bill, there are benchmarks where the attorney general is supposed to report his findings. We are well beyond those benchmarks now.

So we’re calling on the attorney general, Matt Platkin, to meet with the family, to meet with Carl Dorsey’s family, and also to report to the community, because this is a concern for the family, but it’s also a concern for the community, and make their findings known. Two years is too long not to hear anything from the attorney general about this case. In addition, we’re calling on the U.S. attorney for New Jersey, who represents the Justice Department, to also look at this case, to in fact see if any of Carl’s civil rights were violated — that is, federal civil rights laws were violated in this case. And lastly, we’re calling on the state Legislature to pass police reform legislation that it has had for two years, including legislation that would enable Newark and other municipalities to establish police review boards with subpoena powers, because we believe, ultimately, the best antidote to police brutality is community control of the police.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring Madinah into this conversation. Madinah Person, first of all, our condolences to you. Even as this death happened almost two years ago, I know it is so deeply painful to you right through to today. Can you talk about how you learned that your brother Carl had been killed?

MADINAH PERSON: Sure. Good morning. So, on New Year’s Day, I received a call about 7:30 or so in the morning, and the call was from my sister, Nyeemah. And I thought that she was calling to wish me a happy new year. I spoke to her the night before, around 11 or so o’clock at night, and we both told each other that we would call each other around midnight to wish each other a happy new year. And we didn’t get around to doing that, so the next call I got from her was, again, around 7:30 in the morning.

And I pick up the phone, and she’s crying hysterically. She can barely speak. And I asked her, I said, “What’s wrong?” And when she finally was able to speak, she said, “They killed Carl.” And I said — like, I was just in shock. So, the first thing that I could think of even to say was, I said, you know, “Why are you playing like that? Like, don’t play like that. Stop playing.” And she’s like, “I’m not playing. The Newark police killed Carl.”

And so, mind you, at this time, she was actually living out of state, in Delaware. So she dropped everything that she was doing, too. We decided to meet at my aunt Wanda’s house. The whole family did. So, by the time I got to my Aunt Wanda’s house, my cousin was there, and everyone’s of course hysterical and crying. And for some reason, there was this bit of hope that maybe he wasn’t dead. So, the family was kind of hanging onto that idea. And they wanted me to call the hospital that he supposedly — that I think — the hospital that he was taken to. They wanted me, as his sister, to call the hospital to see if he was in their morgue. And I just — I couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to hear that kind of news, and especially not over the phone. But it was later on in the day confirmed that he died.

AMY GOODMAN: Have the state spoken you? I mean, have the Newark police? Have the investigators? What communication have they had with your family, with Carl’s family?

MADINAH PERSON: Absolutely none. I’ve heard from no one, not a police officer, not the Attorney General’s Office. Absolutely no one related to this case has reached out to myself, has reached out to our attorney, has reached out to anyone in our family. We’ve had multiple family members call the Attorney General’s Office, and, again, they have received no information. We have absolutely no details, no — we know nothing about anything that’s going on, if anything is going on. We don’t know anything about any kind of progress. And I know nothing.

AMY GOODMAN: And what are you demanding in this civil lawsuit that has just been filed?

MADINAH PERSON: Well, we’re demanding justice for my brother, and we need people to be accountable for what happened to him. We need the officer who killed him to be held accountable for his actions. We need the Newark Police Department to be held accountable for their inactions in not firing this police officer years ago, because it’s my understanding that he — like, this is a pattern for him. Like, he’s pulled out a gun in plainclothes on civilians before, and he was allowed to still be on the force afterwards, which is unacceptable. And we need the Attorney General’s Office to be held accountable for their — for the lack of discipline from the Newark Police Department.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask Larry Hamm, as we wrap up: What new did you learn from the video that was released? And has officer Simpkins been involved with other cases of misconduct?

LARRY HAMM: Yes, Amy, this officer has been involved in other cases and does have a reputation. And frankly, we call on the city of Newark to fire this officer. We feel that he shouldn’t be on the force. The tape is clear: He shot and killed an unarmed man. He shouldn’t be on the force. So, once again, we’re calling on the attorney general to step forward, to meet with the family. Right now right here I’m calling on Attorney General for New Jersey Matt Platkin to immediately set up a meeting with the family of Carl Dorsey, with Madinah and her sister, his stepdad and any other family members, and meet with them and tell them what’s going on with the case, and then tell the community. In addition, I want to say that we’re going —

AMY GOODMAN: We just have 30 seconds.

LARRY HAMM: Yes. We’re going to have a demonstration for Carl Dorsey next Monday, September 19th, 5:00 p.m., in front of the Federal Building, 970 Broad Street in Newark, New Jersey.

AMY GOODMAN: Larry Hamm, I want to thank you for being with us, chair of the People’s Organization for Progress, and Madinah Person, sister of Carl Dorsey, the unarmed Black man killed by an undercover Newark police detective on New Year’s Day 2021.

The majority-Black city of Jackson, Mississippi, is where we head next, where some of the water is on, but it is dark brown. Stay with us.

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