New Jersey Senate leader wants toll meeting arrest investigated

| 1/25/2008

The New Jersey State Senate Republican leader is calling for an investigation into the arrest of a former mayor during a meeting about Gov. Jon Corzine’s proposed toll increases.

State Sen. Tom Kean, R-Union City, has written a letter urging state Attorney General Anne Milgram to investigate the arrest of former Bogota, NJ, Mayor Steve Lonegan and local radio personality Seth Grossman.

Lonegan and Grossman attempted to distribute anti-tolling literature at a town hall meeting on Saturday, Jan. 19, at a school in Cape May County. The local school board had published notices that outside signs could not be brought into the building. Local police arrested Lonegan and Grossman for allegedly attempting to break the rule. They were charged with defiant trespassing.

The arrests spawned a free-speech frenzy in the media and blogosphere.

“Clearly, this incident may raise significant allegations regarding the use of law enforcement to improperly suppress a citizen’s constitutional right to speak freely on matters of public concern,” Sen. Kean wrote to the attorney general.

Click here to read Kean’s letter and press release.

During the fallout that followed the arrest, officials with Middle Township and the local school board issued an apology to Lonegan and Grossman, urging the municipal prosecutor to drop the charges.

“Local school and municipal officials, upon consultation with counsel, have determined that Mr. Lonegan and Mr. Grossman were engaging in constitutionally protected action,” officials stated in a joint news release. “The school board and the township have informed Mr. Lonegan and Mr. Grossman about the request that the charges be dismissed and offer their sincere apologies for any distress or humiliation the arrests have caused them.”

The press release was not signed, but listed the local police chief and school superintendent as the people to contact for more information.

At press time, the Cape May County Prosecutor had not returned a call by Land Line about the status of the charges.

– By David Tanner, staff writer