South Jersey Cop, Son Charged With Harassing Civil Rights Activist

Walter Hudson's relationship with the Penns Grove Police Department is tumultuous, to say the least.

Civil rights activist Walter Hudson (Photo courtesy National Awareness Alliance)

Civil rights activist Walter Hudson (Photo courtesy National Awareness Alliance)

Penns Grove is a small town in Salem County, New Jersey, sitting directly across from Wilmington along the Delaware River. But as small towns go, the borough of just over 5,000 has more than its share of tension and unrest, and community activist Walter Hudson seems to be at the center of a lot of it.

Penns Grove police officer Joseph Johnson Sr. and his son Joseph Johnson Jr. have been charged with disorderly conduct and harassment for an incident outside the Penns Grove High School involving Hudson last week. According to court documents, the father is accused of “repeatedly yelling obscenities” at Hudson, including calling Hudson a “piece of shit,” while the son allegedly called him a “punk bitch” and threatened Hudson by saying, “You better watch your back.” The father was off duty at the time.

Joe Johnson Jr. and Penns Grove police officer Joe Johnson Sr. (via Facebook)

Joe Johnson Jr. and Penns Grove police officer Joe Johnson Sr. (via Facebook)

Hudson, a Penns Grove resident and the founder and chairman of the civil rights group National Awareness Alliance, filed private criminal complaints against the Johnsons with the Carneys Point Municipal Court earlier this week. According to deputy court administrator Karen Rubino, that complaint was sent to another jurisdiction for review, because the case involves a Penns Grove police officer and could present a potential conflict for the Penns Grove judge. The judge who reviewed the complaint found probable cause for the case to proceed, says Rubino, and the men will be summoned to appear in court. (The case will be heard in another jurisdiction, as yet to be determined.)

Hudson says the serious tension with the Penns Grove Police Department began in 2010, when he led a rally protesting the death of MoShowon Leach, a 31-year-old man who died that year during an altercation with police — and an altercation that involved Johnson Sr. No charges were filed against any of the cops in Leach’s death, but Leach’s mother filed a wrongful death and excessive force suit against the police. Last year, Penns Grove and Carneys Point agreed to settle the case for $2 million. Hudson was also heavily involved in protesting the 2014 death of Jerame Reid at the hands of police in Bridgeton, New Jersey.

“I’m well known in the community, because I am at the front and very vocal on these police brutality issues,” says Hudson, who says that he’s planning a civil lawsuit as well. “And I’ve been constantly harassed as a result. I’ve been pulled over for nothing, I’ve had officers yelling obscenities at me. Previous to this incident, Officer Johnson has stuck his middle finger up and me and followed me on other occasions, and it falls on deaf ears when I report these things. Well, enough is enough.”

The problems between Hudson and the department reached a boiling point in July 2014, at a time when Hudson was a member of the local school board. Hudson was at a basketball game at Penns Grove Middle School when a fight broke out. Police stepped in but so did Hudson, and Hudson was caught on video appearing to throw Penns Grove cop George Maganaro to the ground. He was arrested and charged with aggravated assault of a cop, resisting arrest and obstruction of justice. Hudson entered a plea deal and received three years probation (he’s appealing, saying it was only supposed to be one year), and he was dismissed from the school board.

For his part, Hudson claimed that Maganaro followed him the night before the fight at the school and confronted him, forming a gun with his hand and pretending to shoot Hudson. He filed a private criminal complaint against Maganaro, but that complaint was dismissed.

“This is a fearful situation,” says Hudson. “I feel threatened. There have to be changes. These cops do whatever they want and shoot and kill people with no consequences. Something has got to change.”

The Johnsons did not return a call seeking comment, and Penns Grove police chief Gary Doubledee said that the department had no comment about the charges against his cop or the overall situation with Hudson.