4 officers suspended after allegedly kicking, dragging man on fire

JERSEY CITY, New Jersey -- Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop has suspended four police officers, including a lieutenant with 24 years experience, for "acting outside of guidelines" in a pursuit that led to a fiery crash last week.

The officers were suspended without pay, the mayor announced at a press conference Tuesday. He deferred questions about a criminal probe into the incident to the Hudson County prosecutor's office, which is conducting the investigation.

"We have a strong track record here of supporting our police officers and acting swiftly with discipline when appropriate," Fulop said. "We're taking swift actions within our ability to do so, and residents should know we want to have a balance between resident concerns and policing concerns, and we feel have that balance here."

Suspended were: Lieutenant Keith Ludwig and Officers M.D. Khan, Erik Kosinski and Francisco Rodriguez.

Fulop had vowed to take action after cellphone video showed the aftermath of the chase and crash.

The incident happened as Jersey City officers tried to stop the driver of a car near Ocean Avenue and Cator Avenue.

During the pursuit, the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office said the fleeing driver was involved in two different crashes. In the first, officers fired shots at the driver as he tried to drive between two lanes of traffic, but they say the driver, 48-year-old Leo Pinkston, kept going.

Several blocks later, on Tonnelle Avenue, the fleeing driver crashed into a utility pole, causing a fire that somehow injured another driver in a different car.

The video showed police kicking and dragging bystander Miguel Feliz, who underwent surgery for burns last week and remains hospitalized.

Fulop and Jersey City Public Safety Director James Shea said they had concluded the officers violated several guidelines during the chase.

Shea said Ludwig, a 24-year veteran of the force, has an "excellent" record, and that the four officers, one of whom has been on the force for a year, "are average police officers." He didn't say if any had had previous disciplinary violations, and he wouldn't say if any of the suspended officers were the ones seen on video kicking Feliz.

"We repeat our call for a full and impartial investigation into this incident," Carmine Disbrow, president of the Jersey City Police Officers Benevolent Association, said in an email to the Associated Press. "Unfortunately Mayor Fulop continues to indicate that he has no intention of allowing this to be the case."

Shea said at least 20 officers were involved in some aspect of the response to the high-speed chase, which lasted for several miles and began because the vehicle matched the description of a car that had been used in a shooting several nights earlier. Several protocols were violated, he said, including the length of the chase, the firing of shots at a moving vehicle and the placing of a car as a roadblock without approval from a supervisor.

Ludwig "was the supervisor of the officers who started the chase, he was involved from the beginning and he allowed it to go on long after the point where, under the attorney general's guidelines, he should have called it off," Shea said.

The investigation is ongoing.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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