Linden firefighter claims mayor assaulted him

Mayor says video footage will prove charges are much ado about nothing

LINDEN, NJ — Although a Linden firefighter is claiming that he was assaulted by Linden Mayor Derek Armstead at a recent fundraising event, Armstead says that video footage of the alleged assault has turned up that will prove the charges are much ado about nothing.

Linden firefighter Christopher Lukenda filed a police report regarding an alleged altercation that occurred between him and Armstead at a Linden Police Department fundraising event held at Amici III restaurant on West Elizabeth Avenue in Linden on March 17.

LocalSource has obtained a copy of the March 17 police report through the Open Public Records Act.

According to the police report, Linden police officers were called to the restaurant after Lukenda said that he wanted to report an assault.

“Christopher states that he was in the downstairs area standing at the bar engaging Linden Mayor Derek Armstead in a discussion about polities,” states the report. “Christopher states that they are familiar with each other, as he is a longtime Linden fireman. Mr. Armstead then asked him if he planned on running for the 5th Ward council seat. Christopher stated, “No, I’m running for your job, the mayor.”

Lukenda claims in the police report that Armstead replied, “Good, I like it when illiterates run against me, they’re easy to beat,” and then an argument allegedly ensued.

Lukenda claims in the report that “Mr. Armstead continued to insult him and his family, stating, ‘All of the Lukendas are illiterate.’ Christopher states they both raised their voices and that’s when Mr. Armstead pushed him in the chest. Christopher pushed him back and Mr. Armstead grabbed him around the neck,” with Lukenda making a headlock of gesture to demonstrate, according to the report.

According to Lukenda’s statement in the report, a witness and Armstead’s wife, Danni, intervened and separated the two, although the arguing allegedly continued.
“Christopher states that Danni and Armstead called him a racist, and he told her that she’s the racist,” the report said. “Christopher states that further insults and accusations were exchanged until Mr. Armstead departed the event.”

But Armstead told LocalSource in a recent phone interview that he has seen video footage from the night in question, and that the footage shows no physical contact between him and Lukenda.

According to Armstead, the footage could not yet be released to LocalSource. However, Armstead did say that the footage would be released at a later date.
“An accusation was made by a fireman in town, and he even went so far as to say I had him in a headlock,” Armstead said. “There is video footage. It is illegal to file a false police report and that’s what we have here. We have a city employee filing a false police report.”

LocalSource reached out to Lukenda, who said that he was unable to comment on these accusations.

According to Armstead, there were dozens of witnesses to the incident who can attest to the fact that Lukenda’s allegations are false. In addition, Armstead says that he has seen the video footage several times.

“The place is ‘camera-d’ up,” Armstead said, stating that he was informed of the cameras and instructed to get the footage. “The video showed no physical altercation. I watched it many times. It clearly demonstrates that there was no physical activity between me and this individual. Film does not lie.”

Armstead alleges that once his conversation with Lukenda had ended, Lukenda left, along with a friend. Forty-five minutes later, however, when Armstead left the event, Lukenda and his friend were waiting outside the restaurant for him, according to Armstead.

“He and his buddy were waiting outside, waiting to get something going,” Armstead said. “They were waiting for 45 minutes outside.”

Armstead said he was shocked when he found out that Lukenda had filed a police report.

“I was shocked to find out the next day that he filed a report,” Armstead said. “No police came to take a statement from me. Trust me, I was quite upset when I heard there was a police report. But when I got the footage, I felt vindicated.”

According to Armstead, Lukenda has had it out for him and his family since he took office in 2014.

“He’s from the old guard that hasn’t accepted that I’m the mayor,” Armstead said, who noted that he is the city’s first black mayor. “He has told me that he’s running against me. He’s been very disrespectful to me. He was a guest at this event; this was not his event. You have to be respectful. I’m no fan of Donald Trump, but he’s the president and I have to respect the office of the president. I’m the mayor. I earned this position. You don’t have to like someone, but you have to respect them. Some people think it’s OK to attack me and my family. He started up verbally with me. He has a serious history with me and he’s been antagonistic toward me since he’s known me.”

Armstead said that he will be responding to Lukenda’s charges.
“I can say with certainty that I will be responding to him with the footage,” Armstead said. “I will go after him in court. You can’t issue a false police report. When it’s time for me to present my case, we’ll see how he stands up. When you go file a false police report and the video doesn’t support those allegations, we’re talking about a whole different ballgame.