By Karen Zautyk
Four people were arrested and four police officers were assaulted — one of them kicked in the head by an arrestee — in an early-morning melee Feb. 8 at the Quick Chek store on Kearny Ave., authorities reported.
The officers, outnumbered and surrounded by an unruly crowd who refused to disperse and physically interfered with the arrests, were forced at several points to employ OC spray, KPD Chief John Dowie said.
The saga had begun a short time earlier near Kearny Ave. and Afton St., where two females reported to Officer Leroy Bibbs that they had been harassed and assaulted, and their car damaged, by several people who had then headed south on the avenue.
As Bibbs and Sgt. John Becker started checking the area, KPD headquarters alerted them to a report of a fight at Quick Chek at Kearny and Bergen Aves.
When Bibbs arrived at the store, he encountered a 24-year-old Orange resident, Derek Gaters, who fit the description of one of the alleged assailants in the earlier incident, police said.
According to police, Gaters was aggressive and confrontational and, when told he was under arrest, violently resisted. He reportedly had to be forced to the ground and handcuffed and then fought efforts to place him into the police car.
Becker, along with Officers Dean Gasser and Tom Sumowski, joined forces to get him into the vehicle, but Gaters continued to resist and kicked Gasser in the head, police said. Later, at headquarters, Gaters reportedly assaulted Sumowski.
Police said a 21-year-old Bayonne resident, James Hems, attempted to interfere with Gaters’ arrest, assaulted Becker and had to be subdued with OC spray.
At that point, 19-year-old Jacqueline Sperduto of Kearny reportedly began to incite the onlookers surrounding the officers and tried to pull Becker into the midst of the crowd.
Due to the extent of the donnybrook, all available Kearny units were sent to the scene and assistance in restoring order was provided by Harrison and East Newark Police and a State Police unit.
Eventually, the crowd was dispersed and the three prisoners were taken to headquarters for booking.
So who was the fourth person arrested?
Police said that during the course of the booking/bail process, a 21-year-old Kearny resident, Angel Colon, came to HQ to inquire about the arrestees and was identified as one of the individuals involved in the original Afton St. incident.
Colon was charged with conspiracy and criminal mischief and, after a search pursuant to arrest, with unlawful possession of prescription drugs.
Charges against the others were as follows —
Gaters: four counts of aggravated assault on a police officer, conspiracy, criminal mischief;
Hems: simple assault, aggravated assault on a police officer, resisting arrest, hindering apprehension, criminal mischief, conspiracy;
Sperduto: aggravated assault on police, resisting arrest, hindering apprehension.
Dowie said that Officer Gasser was taken to Clara Maass Medical Center for treatment of the head injury he received and, upon recommendation of the department’s physician, was placed on medical leave.