Councilwoman Jenny Crumiller told Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber Wednesday night during a town-and-gown meeting that she wanted to discuss some unfinished business regarding the arrest of a professor last winter.
“When Professor Perry was arrested, you refused to acknowledge after an investigation that police followed procedures and were blameless,” Crumiller said.
She was referring to the February arrest of Princeton University Professor Imani Perry, who was pulled over for driving 22 miles over the speed limit on Mercer Street near the intersection of Quaker Road. Perry had two outstanding court warrants for parking tickets and a suspended Pennsylvania driver’s license. She was arrested and taken to the police department, where one hand was handcuffed to a rail at the processing window. Perry, who is black, criticized the police on social media, detailing how she was patted down by a male officer, was not allowed to make a call while on Mercer Street to let someone know where she was, was handcuffed, and was taken to the police station, where she said she was handcuffed to a table while she was processed.
Eisgruber issued a statement after the incident calling for an investigation. “Many on our campus and around the country have expressed understandable concern about the arrest this past weekend of Professor Imani Perry, who is a respected scholar and beloved teacher at this University,” he wrote at the time. “They have been shocked that such an arrest could result from unpaid parking tickets. They have also been distressed about specific aspects of the arrest, including the fact that a pat-down was performed by a male officer and that Professor Perry was handcuffed to a desk after her arrest.”
After an investigation revealed that the officer followed proper protocol and a video of the incident was released, Eisgruber did not release any new public statements on the incident or the investigation. Some residents thought at the time that he should apologize or publicly acknowledge that the police did nothing wrong.
On Wednesday night Eisgruber said he respects the Princeton police chief, but said he has heard people at Princeton and around the country talk about disparate treatment by police based on race and said he disagrees with the practice of taking unpaid parking tickets and turning them into warrants.
“We have to have rules, but whether that is the right rule, and then handcuffing everyone to a chair,” Eisgruber said. “I respect the way the chief runs his department, and the way he carried out duties in that case, but I also respect the pain our professor went through and the reactions she had…It was important under the circumstances we faced and the students who were thinking about it — this professor is genuinely beloved by them – to recognize the experience she went through and the experiences they went through. What I spoke about was my sympathy for Professor Perry.”
Crumiller was not satisfied with Eisgruber’s response. “You’re not really addressing my issue,” she said. “At the time it would have been helpful, especially with what happened and then all the racists who started using the story for their own purposes, for you to acknowledge…I don’t think you ever acknowledged after that our police were following good procedures. You never acknowledged our efforts.”
Crumiller said the town has made efforts to review police data on police stops and other issue and make records public. She added that the police must treat all people equally when executing warrants to guarantee equal treatment. Having officers make judgment calls as to whether or not to handcuff or search someone who is arrested could lead to disparate treatment. The municipality does not have discretion in executing a warrant issued by a judge in the state.
Eisgruber said the investigation showed police followed proper procedure, but said Perry’s issue was with the body search and handcuffing for outstanding parking tickets. He said the incident had to be seen in the context of police stops across the nation.
“Faculty and students were also coming to me talking about incidents in Princeton where they were pulled over and treated inappropriately,” Eisgruber said. “I know the chief and council have made efforts to improve the way people are treated, but when I’m talking to a community I had responsibility listening to what is said by those people in pain. At no point did I say what the Princeton Police did was wrong. I said in one email that I had complete respect for what the police did.”
Councilwoman Jo Butler said she thought a public response would have been appropriate at the time given Eisgruber’s public statement after the incident. “You privately sent an email many people were copied on, but it felt like it should be something public,” she said.
Mayor Liz Lempert said the incident was painful for the community and people complain every week about speeding on the stretch of road where Perry was pulled over for speeding.
Councilwoman Heather Howard said the town would like to purchase body cameras for the police, but it would cost more than $200,000. Eisgruber said the university could possibly support a proposal to fund the purchase of body cameras, though he added that there are pros and cons to using them.