Police could have taken a more “holistic” approach to examining dozens of complaints against a man later caught on video going on a racist tirade in New Jersey, though officers acted appropriately when investigating the individual incidents, a prosecutor’s report found.
The report released Tuesday by the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office found that between 2016 and July 2021, there were 40 complaints against Edward Cagney Mathews. Mathews was finally arrested after a July 2 video showed him harassing and shouting racial epithets at neighbors, though the BCPO found that he had admitted to calling neighbors the n-word and “monkeys” earlier than that.
Mathews faces 22 charges stemming from the July 2 video, including an additional charge of racial intimidation filed against him Tuesday for allegedly leaving a threatening note on someone’s car and damaging the vehicle, the prosecutor’s office said. He has remained in custody since July 5.
But even before then – between April 26, 2020, and July 4, 2021 – there were 28 separate complaints against Mathews that were reported to the Mount Laurel Police Department by residents of the Essex Place community, six of which “had some overt racial component to them” and one in which Mathews “self-reported” calling neighbors the n-word and “monkeys” and telling them that “they don’t belong in this town,” the BCPO report concluded.
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“If MLPD had recognized the recurring racial overtones to Mathews’ dispute with his neighbors, it may have been able to mobilize other resources with civil rights expertise to help the department address the overall problem before one resident was driven from her home and other residents were forced to live in fear of further harassment due to their race,” the report said.
Nonetheless, the report found it “difficult to find fault with MLPD on an incident-by-incident basis.”
In all, 39 different police officers responded to incidents involving Mathews, and “one would not expect every one of them to know the backstory,” the report concluded.
Officers did investigate complaints – including incidents of property crimes like smashed car windows and slashed tires, as well as feces being smeared on vehicles and a rock being thrown through the window of a home at night – but there was insufficient evidence to charge Mathews, the BCPO said.
Police also advised Essex Place’s homeowners’ association to install security cameras to capture video evidence, and a department detective installed a camera in November 2020, but no incidents occurred during the three weeks the camera was deployed, according to the report.
The prosecutor’s office also noted that an MLPD detective and an off-duty sergeant tried to set up a surveillance camera at a woman’s home after her car’s windshield was smashed the night before, but their equipment didn’t work and the personal camera the detective tried to set up “did not have the functionality that they needed.”
That attempt to set up a camera happened July 2, the same day Mathews was recorded going on his racist rant, the report noted.
The video that finally got Mathews arrested showed him at the house of an HOA president, where he was met by the president’s wife.
The woman called police after Mathews allegedly tried to break into the home by opening the storm door. She told investigators Mathews wiped off the handle of the door with his t-shirt in an attempt to erase his fingerprints.
The woman also called her neighbor, a Black man, for help. In the video of the incident, Mathews repeatedly yelled racial slurs at the neighbor, calling him a “monkey” and a “n----r.” Police also said Mathews repeatedly chest bumped the neighbor and appeared to try to kiss, lick or spit at him in an attempt to escalate the situation.
During his rant, Mathews also boasted about running HOA board members and African Americans out of the neighborhood while claiming Mount Laurel police could do nothing about it, investigators said.
When a Mount Laurel police officer arrived, Mathews told him to “go talk to the n-----s” and “tell them about me.” Mathews also yelled to onlookers, “Did you know monkeys live here?” and repeatedly called the HOA president, who is Black, and the HOA president’s wife, who is white, “f-----g n-----s,” according to an affidavit. In the video, the officer repeatedly told Mathews to leave and go home before Mathews finally did so.
Despite complaints about how the responding officer handled the incident, the BCPO concluded that he acted appropriately by “calmly, but firmly” telling Mathews to go home so he could talk to the victims.
“The Officer avoided having to go ‘hands-on’ with a volatile and apparently emotionally-disturbed individual, stopped the harassment of the victims, and was able to gather information from the victims and witnesses to assess the situation,” the report read.
Four people were charged with crimes that included discharging pepper spray at police and Mathews, damaging property and spitting at the police during the large fracas that developed outside Mathews' home during his arrest.
Speaking with NBC10 hours before his arrest, Mathews apologized for his words and actions while insisting he wasn’t a racist.
"I did not mean this," Mathews said. "It was a lapse of judgment at a moment at my weakest point and my anger got the best of me."
The latest racial intimidation charge against Mathews came about after a handwriting analysis by the Federal Bureau of Investigation concluded that Mathews was the one who left a threatening note on a neighbor’s vehicle in January, the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office said. The vehicle had also been smeared with feces.
“We empathize with the residents of Essex Place who were on the receiving end of Mathews’ conduct,” county prosecutor Scott Coffina said in a written statement. “No one should have to endure racial harassment anywhere, but especially not in their own neighborhood and even in their own home.”