ELIZABETH, NJ — Linden Mayor Derek Armstead will appear before a judge to face charges that he assaulted a city councilman during a caucus meeting last year as Elizabeth Municipal Court Judge Roman Montes ruled the case could move forward after hearing the mayor’s plea Feb. 22.
The mayor is accused of striking Linden Councilman John Francis Roman during a caucus meeting May 15, a charge he says is false.
According to police records, an argument started between Armstead and Roman during the meeting. Roman told police that at the end of the meeting, Armstead started to complain to Roman about a Facebook post concerning the cleanup of the Linden Train Station.
As the argument continued, Armstead told Roman that he wanted to “knock (his) … head off,” according to the police report.
At the end of the meeting, the mayor stood up, came within an inch of Roman’s face, slammed his shoulder into Roman’s shoulder, knocked him back and caused Roman to fear for his immediate safety, the police report said.
Roman provided police with a list of people present in the room when the confrontation occurred, including: former council President Jorge Alvarez, 1st Ward Councilwoman Lisa Ormon, 2nd Ward Councilman Barry Javick, 3rd Ward Councilman Peter Brown, 4th Ward Councilman Alfred Mohammed, 7th Ward Councilman Ralph Strano, Council President Michele Yamakaitis, 9th Ward Councilman Armando Medina, 10th Ward Councilwoman Gretchen Hickey, police Chief David Hart, fire Chief Joseph Dooley, attorney Allan Roth, construction code official Frank Gadomski and city clerk Joseph Bodek.
LocalSource viewed video from Sgt. Michael Richmond’s body-worn camera of Roman giving his statement. In it, Roman said that when Armstead slammed his shoulder into him, “everyone in the room gasps.” Then Roman said quotes Alvarez as saying, “Mayor, what are you doing? That’s assault.”
In an email statement to LocalSource on Feb. 25, Roman said: “I don’t want to get into too many details of this case as the court has found probable cause to go forward with a trial after the defense adjourned this as many times as allowed. Mayor Armstead, just like every American, deserves a fair trial. He has casted me as a liar and a racist to the public and that is just not true, anyone who knows me knows that I am not that type of person.
“The fact is there were 14 or more people in a room that is no bigger than a small bedroom and everyone present saw what he did. Not all who were present in that room are going to lie to the court and the ones that do are knowingly perjuring themselves. If Mayor Armstead is interested in doing right by the people of Linden, he should save our city further bad press and just admit to what he did.
“Mayor, take your slap on the wrist, for one time in your life admit that you were wrong so together we can move on to the business of making this city what it can and used to be. Admitting when one is wrong is a sign of strength in a leader, not a weakness. The time is always right, to do right.”
No date to hear the case has been set, but Armstead faces up to six months in prison if he is convicted. Roman said Armstead has postponed the matter three times.
“John Roman pressed charges and, incidentally, unwarranted charges,” Armstead said in a phone interview Feb. 25. “It is a false accusation all the way. I suspect and I believe it in my heart of hearts he was doing it to generate some news for a campaign piece and that’s precisely what he did with it. Two days after he filed charges, he had created a piece saying he was assaulted and distributed it throughout the whole city. It was part of the Gretchen Hickey campaign to help me lose the primary last year. That’s what happened. We went in front of the judge.”
Six members of the council are typically aligned with the mayor: Yamakaitis, Strano, Mohammed, Brown, Javick and Ormon, Armstead’s sister. The other four members often vote against the mayor’s suggestions and direction.
The case was moved from Linden to Elizabeth to avoid a conflict of interest.