Just past 1 p.m. on Feb. 7, on the start of what was surely one of the busiest weeks in his three years as the head of the Princeton Police Department, the first email about Princeton University Professor Imani Perry’s arrest appeared in Chief Nicholas Sutter’s email inbox.
“I find it extremely disturbing that Imani Perry was searched by a male officer while a female officer was present,” reads the email. “I hope an investigation is done and your policies are updated and your staff receives training. This is an injustice. Men in law enforcement should not touch the bodies of women especially when there was another officer present who could’ve done it. Very disturbing and suspicious.”
The previous day, Feb. 6, Perry had been pulled over for speeding and was arrested for an outstanding warrant for failure to appear in court for two unpaid parking tickets. On Feb. 7, Perry tweeted about her arrest, saying she was arrested for a parking ticket, a male officer performed a body search, she was not allowed to make a phone call, and she was handcuffed to a table. She said her blackness was not incidental to the matter.
That same afternoon the student newspaper, the Daily Princetonian, ran a story on the incident based on Perry’s tweets. The story did not include the details of the arrest or a response from the Princeton Police Department. After the chief provided details about the arrest to the press, Perry called him a liar on social media. Two days later, Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber wrote a public statement calling for an independent investigation into the incident.
Sutter began receiving emails in his inbox expressing outrage about the incident within hours of Perry’s first tweet. Planet Princeton filed a public records request through the state’s Open Public Records Act and obtained emails that were sent to his municipal inbox.
Some emails focused on Perry’s status as a Princeton University professor. One professor from Princeton University said Perry should have been treated better as a distinguished faculty member:
“I was shocked and horrified to learn that my colleague, Professor Imani Perry, was forcibly handcuffed and arrested last night for an outstanding traffic ticket (from three years ago, no less!). This is a completely inappropriate response for such a minor offense. I understand that she was not allowed to make a phone call, and was humiliated by being handcuffed to a table during an interrogation and given a body search,” reads the email. “This is not treatment commensurate with a mere traffic ticket! As she is a distinguished member of the Princeton University faculty, I cannot see how she could have possibly been seen as threatening and needing this sort of treatment. The one time I (a white male) found myself in the township police station for a traffic ticket, I was treated with respect. I shudder to think that Professor Imani’s treatment by the police may have been due to the color of her skin.”
A graduate student express shock that police could handcuff a member of the university and not allow her to make a phone call:
“I have heard about the incidence involving Professor Perry and as a graduate student myself it is disturbing to think that people can be treated so poorly by the police on a university campus,” the student wrote. “I understand that the law must be enforced, but surely there must be ways to so so without putting the individual in such a compromising situation. A traffic ticket does not seem to merit the type of response she described. Individuals should be allowed to contact family to let them know their whereabouts and handcuffing someone to the table seems extreme. The woman was probably in fear for her life over something so minor as a traffic ticket.”
A former professor at Princeton University wrote to Sutter demanding a public apology:
“I was a member of the Princeton community from 2001-2014, and am shocked and dismayed to hear of your department’s treatment of Imani Perry. Handcuffed to a table and given a body search by a male officer? There is absolutely no way that your officers’ treatment of Prof Perry was in keeping with an outstanding parking ticket, nor do I believe you would have treated a white academic of her status that way,” reads the email. “Your department is quite clearly in need of remedial training on a variety of fronts, including and not limited to the underlying racism of which this incident is emblematic. You also owe Prof Perry a public apology *at an absolute minimum.* This incident is completely unacceptable and you should be mortified that it occurred under your watch.”
Several people emailed Sutter to demand that the police not release the video of Perry’s arrest, because Perry said it showed her home address. “Releasing the video at this point seems unnecessary and appears out of spite for Dr. Perry,” reads one email. “People are online threatening her. She has young children and is afraid,” reads another email.
Some people wrote that the police should be ashamed, and others called the police names in emails.
“How racist are you sh*! cops?” reads one email.
“Shame on you with Professor Perry’s arrest,” reads another.
A third email called the officer who did the pat down of Perry’s pockets and shoes a pervert.
“It doesn’t matter if the office is white or black. What happen to Mrs Imani Perry is DESPICABLE. This once again shows another law enforcement agency has officers with no integrity or character. You let a male officer pat a female down??? Where there was a female officer there? You always get a female officer to do female searches. Come on chief you’re not deaf, dumb or blind. You know what’s going on out here with officers doing dumb sh*!. Maybe you don’t care. Or maybe you are giving them the green light?,” reads the email. “What if a male perverted officer patted down your daughter, granddaughter or wife? With a female officer standing by? You would make sure the pervert gets fired. And I’m sure that officer had every intention of touching Mrs. Perry in an inappropriate way. @#$#^&*% despicable pervert. And the female officer standing there is a @#$#@% idiot. And you wonder why law enforcement gets no respect in this country. Laughing stock of the world. But it seems to always be ignorant white officers that’s doing dumb sh*!. Stop recruiting rejects. Then handcuffing her to a table? We will see if you have the balls to discipline these idiots. The pervert should be fired. But God sees all evil. You will be just as guilty for letting this go without repercussions. No common sense. No integrity. Definitely no character. And a perverted officer. Tell your officers common sense rules the world. Not arrogance and ignorance. Ask God to give your officers some common sense.”
Some emails voiced support for the police. “The two officers should have arrested her for speeding and for the warrant. Period,” reads one email. “I am a former officer and I never put anyone in the back seat until I searched them.”
Yet other emails scolded the chief for being too conciliatory in public remarks about the incident. Sutter said proper police procedure was followed during the stop and arrest, but acknowledged people’s concerns and perceptions about race when discussing the incident at a Princeton Council meeting.
“So you admit the police department followed proper procedure by arresting this professor. But you proceed to make it racial. Should she have been treated differently because she is black? A different standard because of her skin color? You are a disgraceful human being.”
After the video of Perry’s arrest was released, Sutter stopped receiving emails scolding the police department.
Perry also said she received more than her share of hate mail. She shut her Twitter account down temporarily because she said she was receiving threats. The last post she made about the incident was on Evernote and was called “The End.”
The Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office has not released its final report on the incident. The prosecutor’s office conducted an initial review and said the evidence showed no wrong doing by the officer. Perry was supposed to meet with the prosecutor’s office before the report was finalized, but canceled the appointment and never rescheduled. A final report on the incident could be issued this week. Perry’s court appearance for the speeding ticket in Princeton has been rescheduled for March 8 and she is scheduled to attend a hearing in Pennsylvania this week for driving an unregistered vehicle.