New Jersey town announces policing changes after controversial death

PATERSON, New Jersey (WABC) -- The mayor of Paterson, New Jersey, on Thursday unveiled new initiatives designed to improve the relationship between police and the community in the wake of a controversial death.

Mayor Andre Sayegh's announcement came on the heels of citywide protests over the death of Jameek Lowery, who walked into a police station while suffering from a severe case of spinal meningitis.

Lowery showed up at police headquarters to ask for help and later died at the hospital.

A planned protest Wednesday night led to the cancellation of a town hall meeting with Governor Phil Murphy.

Lowery's family wants a private autopsy and investigation.

"When facts are available, I am committed to providing them to the family and this community in an open and transparent manner," Sayegh said. "I have heard the community's concerns about having the attorney general take over the investigation. I want to assure you that I have been in contact with Attorney General Grewal numerous times. He is providing oversight of the work being performed by the Passaic County Prosecutor, our chief law enforcement officer in this county."

WATCH the mayor's news conference

Sayegh announced the following initiatives, which will be implemented over the next several weeks and months:

1. Commissioning a top-to-bottom audit of the police department from an independent authority

2. Pursuing body cameras

3. Creating a citizen advisory board to achieve transparency, increase credibility, obtain outside and independent opinions, and receive feedback and support

4. Prioritizing attracting and retaining Paterson residents as police officers

5. Expanding the chaplaincy program to include more training for officers from community faith leaders in de-escalation, crisis intervention, and cultural and racial sensitivity

"Trust in law enforcement has been eroded in our community," Sayegh said. "It didn't start with this incident or this administration. This is a challenge faced by urban communities across the country. But I also recognize there have been specific incidents here in Paterson that have played a significant role in the erosion of trust in law enforcement."

Lowery had been asking for help all day after saying he had taken ecstasy, according to 911 tapes obtained by Eyewitness News. Dispatchers sent an ambulance, which took him from his home to St. Joseph's Hospital, but he managed to walk out on his own.

Minutes later, he was back on with 911, this time from the Wendy's restaurant next door to the police station. Police called another ambulance in which, according to the Passaic County Prosecutor, they "used physical force and compliance holds to secure him."

Back at the hospital, he was unresponsive. The investigation into the exact cause of death is ongoing, but news of his meningitis -- which is a highly contagious and deadly disease that had invaded his brain -- has been enough to prophylactically treat three Paterson police officers and a number of firefighters who had direct contact with the patient with antibiotics.

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