Gripped in a dispute over a controversial police-misconduct investigation, Colwyn's Borough Council on Thursday night repealed a state of emergency that had been declared after the suspension of three officers accused in the alleged repeated Tasing of a handcuffed teenager.
"A state of emergency is for mobs or riots," Council President Tonette Pray said, raising her voice over her own banging gavel. "There are no mobs in Colwyn. There are no threats in Colwyn."
As though on cue, a fistfight broke out between jeering residents and borough officers at the back of the room. A woman began screaming that an officer had physically threatened her. A man holding his infant daughter dodged out of the way to protect the girl from the fracas.
The scene illustrated the current state of government, community, and political debate in this Delaware County borough of 2,500, where what started with one teenager's allegations of abuse against one officer has since ripped the scabs off years of political gamesmanship and racial animosity.
"We have taken a personnel matter and turned it into a political matter it should not be," said Pray, a Democrat who is African American. "We can't keep playing this 'I got you' game."
Thursday's raucous town meeting was held a day after Mayor Daniel Rutland, a white Republican, suspended a racially mixed group of three officers — including the borough's acting chief — and declared a state of emergency hours after investigators from the Delaware County District Attorney's Office raided the police station.
The officers, Rutland said, were all suspected of participating in or trying to cover up the alleged repeated Tasing of 17-year-old Da'Qwan Jackson while he was purportedly handcuffed and confined in a holding cell April 24.
In an interview Thursday, Jackson conceded that he had refused to cooperate with officers after witnessing a fight earlier that day. He said one wrote him a citation for disorderly conduct, which Jackson crumpled up and threw on the ground. He was then taken in to custody.
But once behind bars, although he made no threatening gestures, he was shot multiple times on the left arm with the stun gun, he said.
"I kicked the door to the cell," he said. "They just shocked me on my arm. They were laughing."
The suspended officers are Trevor Parham, who allegedly Tased Jackson; Officer Michael Drucktor, who purportedly witnessed the Tasing and failed to report it; and Wendell Reed, the department's acting chief. The mayor accused Reed of failing to notify proper authorities about the alleged incident.
None of the three would comment Thursday on the Tasing allegation.
Hours after they turned in their badges and guns, Rutland and his political rival, Pray, the council president, seized on the investigation as a cudgel with which to beat each other politically.
Pray had convened an emergency council meeting Wednesday night and had suspended another officer — Lt. Wesley Seitz, who first reported the Tasing allegations to Rutland. Rutland countered by declaring an emergency, reinstating his whistle-blower and promoting him to interim chief.
"They were trying to limit my authority over the Police Department," Rutland said in an interview. "They are lying and putting this town in jeopardy."
Then, at the council's regularly scheduled meeting Thursday, the borough's six-man force was upended again. After repealing the state of emergency, Pray and her allies voted to resuspend Seitz and reinstate Reed.
Strife over the police suspensions has served as a breaking point in the years of dysfunctional relations among the mayor, the Democratically controlled council, and the borough's troubled police force.
"Everything that happens in Colwyn is a race issue — black versus white," said Ed Silberstein, a white home builder who owns property in the borough and who has kept a close watch on its political affairs.
Once a white working-class bedroom community, Colwyn has become over the last decade predominantly black. Its government and Police and Fire Departments have been slow to reflect that. For years, the public-safety departments have remained mostly white, leading to tensions with black residents.
Last year, Pray publicly accused Rutland of racism for failing to schedule three black officers — including Reed — in the police shift rotation. Rutland said his decision had nothing to do with race, but rather with questions over the officers' moral suitability for their jobs.
With factions once again at one another's throats Thursday, Christopher Broach, 46, a community activist, who is black, had few words to defend either side.
"I just feel sorry for the kid" who was allegedly Tased, he said. "It's a crying shame that anyone would try to politicize an incident like this."
As for his own central role in the conflict that has reignited old rifts in his community, Jackson just shrugged.
"They deserved to get fired," he said of the officers.