Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Hendricks Arrest and Trial - Courier - 3 stories (2003 - 2005)

Councilor Al Hendricks, 2002

[1] Published in the Courier News on Tuesday, November 18, 2003

City official arrested in traffic altercation


PLAINFIELD -- Police are investigating an incident in which city Councilman Albert Hendricks was arrested and pepper-sprayed after a traffic stop involving his teenage son, police said.

Hendricks was charged Sunday evening after officers stopped his son for allegedly riding a motorized scooter in the street about a block from the family''s West Sixth Street home. Police Chief Edward Santiago said Hendricks attempted to intervene with officers on his son''s behalf, leading to the elder Hendricks'' arrest.

"The councilman showed up on scene, and it escalated from there," Santiago said.

On Monday, less than 24 hours after the incident, Hendricks said he still was recuperating from the pepper spray and the arrest, adding police had used unnecessary force in a situation that shouldn''t have reached that point.

He also said the officer who used pepper spray on him, whom he identified as Sgt. Michael Waldron, has a history of questionable behavior.

Santiago confirmed Waldron was one of the four officers on the scene.

Hendricks was handcuffed and taken to police headquarters on Watchung Avenue, where he was charged with interfering, and with obstructing and resisting arrest, then released, Santiago said. The disorderly person charges carry fines on a sliding scale, Santiago said, but rarely lead to jail time.

Hendricks said his son, Christopher, 16, was on his way home with a friend Sunday evening when a police cruiser pulled the teens over as they rode their scooters.

"They were just riding. They weren''t doing anything. They had on their helmets," Hendricks said.

One of the officers said he was going to impound Christopher's scooter, saying the teen had ridden through a stop sign, and the scooter was an illegal vehicle, Hendricks said.

When he tried to ask questions about the situation, Hendricks said, Waldron told him to stand back.

"I'm not going to sit here and debate this with you‚" Hendricks recalled him saying. "I said, `Well, OK -- then what?" he said.

The officer approached and told him to stand on the curb, Hendricks said. Hendricks then turned to one of the other officers on the scene and said, "Tell him to get his finger out of my face," the councilman said.

"Next thing I knew, I was up against the car, handcuffed and sprayed in the eye with Mace while handcuffed," Hendricks said. "I was sitting there like, `Oh my god'' -- the impact of it," he recalled Monday. "My ear was burning. I asked him (the officer), `Is this what you do to citizens -- cuff them and Mace them?''‚"

After he was released with the summons, Hendricks said he went to JFK Medical Center in Edison for treatment. He said his vision remained blurry Monday.

"The pain -- my whole body was in shock. My eye felt like it had been ripped out of its socket," he said.

Santiago said the investigation continues, and though Hendricks is free to talk about the circumstances surrounding his arrest, police cannot comment until the case has been disposed of in court.

"Sometimes we would like to comment, but we can''t, because the appropriate forum is in the court, in fairness to the arrested person and the officers," he said.

According to Courier News records, Waldron -- whose father, the late John M. Waldron, was chief of the department from 1990-95 -- was suspended in early 1999 after he was involved in a traffic tie-up downtown. Waldron issued about 20 tickets to a line of drivers on their way to a christening, and witnesses said they were frightened because he appeared "really upset" at the time.

A month later, a municipal court judge dismissed all of the moving violations.

About a year earlier, in summer 1998, a party-goer had accused Waldron of throwing him to the ground without provocation while investigating complaints of loud music at a George Street party.

Waldron in early 2002 was recognized with a Community Service Award for his work at the Fresh Kills World Trade Center debris site on Staten Island.

Hendricks said his foremost concern is for other residents who might have similar problems with the officers involved, but said he is considering a formal complaint.

"I''m leaving all that to my attorney. I will be pursuing this," he said.

Public Safety Director Michael Lattimore said it wouldn''t be appropriate for him to comment on Waldron or the police investigation at this time.

"This is an allegation, and I don''t think it''s proper for us to go into his work history or anything like that," until the investigation concludes, he said.

Chad Weihrauch can be reached at (908) 707-3137 or

Original link to online story (no longer working):,2111,857141,00.html

[2] Published in the Courier News on Thursday, December 18, 2003

Hendricks' case over alleged scuffle still in works


PLAINFIELD -- A city councilman who alleges he was manhandled by police said Wednesday he still is awaiting the results of an internal investigation into the incident.

Councilman Albert Hendricks, who was handcuffed and pepper-sprayed Nov. 16 after city police stopped his 16-year-old son for riding a motorized scooter in the street, said officers have interviewed neighbors to ask what they saw that evening.

"I'm waiting for the findings of that investigation," he said. "To my understanding, they said they did go out and survey the area."

Hendricks has said Sgt. Michael Waldron stopped his son, Christopher, who was riding the scooter near the family's West Sixth Street home, and told the teen it is illegal to operate the vehicle in the street. When Hendricks attempted to ask Waldron about the traffic stop, he said, he was taken into custody with unnecessary force, first handcuffed and then pepper-sprayed.

The councilman has been charged with interfering and with obstructing and resisting arrest, which rarely carry a prison sentence.

Police Chief Edward Santiago confirmed police have spoken to potential witnesses but said no trial date has been set.

"We're basically on hold until that takes place," he said, adding there probably would be a change of venue to send the proceedings to a neighboring municipality because of the community ties Waldron and Hendricks have.

Any decision on disciplinary action against Waldron or the other three officers who responded is dependent on the outcome of the trial, Santiago said.

"Unless it's something really, really heinous or criminal in nature, but in this case here, we do have statements from people, and we don't act on those statements ... until after what happens in court," he said.

Hendricks said the laws on motorized scooters remain unclear to him but pointed to a pending Assembly bill, A2602, that he said attempts to fine-tune regulations. The bill reads in part, "No person shall operate a motorized scooter or motorized skateboard upon any public street, highway or sidewalk."

However, at the time of the mid-November incident, Santiago offered a state Division of Motor Vehicles memo stating so-called "Go-Peds" do not meet the definition of a motorcycle under state law, and therefore are "restricted to use on private property, provided the owner of the property consented to such use."

Chad Weihrauch can be reached at (908) 707-3137 or

Original link to online story (no longer working):,2111,872057,00.html

[3] Published in the Courier News, Thursday, July 14, 2005

Dual trials involving ex-official's arrest
start in Westfield


More than a year and a half after a Plainfield city councilman was pepper-sprayed and arrested during a traffic stop involving his teenage son, his trial on obstruction charges finally began Wednesday in Westfield.

The municipal court trial of former Councilman Albert Hendricks has been merged with the assault trial of Plainfield police Sgt. Michael Waldron. Hendricks alleges he was inappropriately handcuffed and pepper-sprayed by Waldron and three other officers on Nov. 16, 2003.

Attorneys in the case delivered opening arguments Wednesday in Westfield's municipal courtroom before Judge Brenda Coppola Cuba, painting two very different pictures -- some with racial overtones -- of what happened that night on Stanley Place in Plainfield's West End.

The case was moved to Westfield to avoid a potential conflict of interest among police and prosecutors in Plainfield.

Hendricks' son, Christopher, then 16, was stopped about 7:30 p.m. by police for riding a motorized "go-ped" with a friend in the street about a block from the family's home on West Sixth Street. Albert Hendricks found out about the stop and drove down the street to the scene, where an altercation occurred.

In opening remarks, Westfield Prosecutor Christine Nugent said Hendricks reacted wildly to his son's apparent arrest, cursing and confronting police, who warned him to settle down. The officers had no choice but to subdue him using pepper spray, she said, since he refused to be placed in a police cruiser.

"There's a small amount of Mace applied," she said. "He did everything he could in this case to avoid being arrested, through his bodily actions and his language."

But Albert Hendricks' lawyer, Murray Klayman, insinuated police were wrong to detain Christopher Hendricks in the first place. When the councilman approached, he questioned the officers' authority, which led to the arrest.

"Mr. Hendricks is familiar with Plainfield and growing up in Plainfield and what young black men have to deal with with white police officers," he said. "It just was a situation that got out of control because Sgt. Waldron made it out of control."

Albert Hendricks left the City Council at the end of 2003.

The structure of the conjoined trial meant things moved slowly Wednesday as four attorneys separately questioned the first witness, Plainfield police Officer Michael Auricchio, who participated in the traffic stop.

Nugent, who is prosecuting Albert Hendricks, went first. Then Klayman, Hendricks' defense attorney, offered his questions. Next up was Michael Blacker, a Scotch Plains prosecutor imported to try the assault case against Waldron. And finally, Waldron's defense attorney, Scott C. Mitzner, asked questions.

Essentially, two cases -- which contain overlapping evidence -- are being prosecuted simultaneously. Hendricks is being tried on charges including resisting arrest, hindering apprehension and obstructing the administration of law. Waldron is being tried on an assault charge.

Auricchio was questioned at length Wednesday about the events leading up to the traffic stop and what occurred afterward. He held to his claim that the elder Hendricks was upset and police responded appropriately.

"He was very angry," he testified at one point, describing Hendricks' appearance on the scene. "He was walking towards us in a demanding fashion."

Hendricks has said in the past he believes Waldron has a problem controlling his temper, which fed into the incident. The court case has been delayed several times, and on one occasion Nov. 10, a heated argument erupted between Waldron and Nugent, the municipal prosecutor.

In a written order, Cuba prohibited any testimony relating to the outburst from being introduced during the trial.

Before Albert Hendricks' trial began Wednesday, his son, Christopher, entered a guilty plea to obstructing the passage of motor vehicles and was fined $50 for riding the go-ped in the street.

Testimony in the trial will continue sporadically in the coming weeks.

Chad Weihrauch can be reached at (908) 707-3137 or

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Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.