katie lee thomasphoto: Katie Lee Thomas was found dead in a jail cell at Neptune Police Department.

Neptune Township, NJ – At the Neptune Township Committee Meeting, advocates and residents organized by Help Not Handcuffs, again called for immediate action following the in-cusotdy death of a young North Carolina woman, Katie Lee Thomas. Members of the Neptune Township Committee, which were present, were Mayor, Kevin McMillan, Deputy Mayor, Dr. Michael Brantley and Committee Persons Carol Rizzo, Nicholas Williams and Robert Lane.

Katie Lee Thomas, a 21-year-old mother, was arrested for drug paraphernalia on August 17, 2016 and transported to the Neptune Police Department; a few hours later she was found dead in a jail cell. Neptune Township is the same municipality, which enabled Phillip Seidle, a Neptune Police Sergent, to go nearly consequence free despite almost a dozen domestic violence calls from his wife Tamara.  Later on June 16, 2015, Sgt. Seidle hunted down Tamara in a car chase and shot her dead.

Randy Thompson, the CEO of Help Not Handcuffs stated at the Committee Meeting, that the tragedy of Katie Lee showed the urgent need for police oversight and accountability and the need to decriminalize simple drug possession. “Drug criminalization and forced drug treatment is a failed policy and brutalizes people who have done no harm to person or property like Katie Lee but subjects them to violent risk.” Thompson also noted that because there is no independent oversight of the police, the Katie Lee’s family and the public are kept in the dark, with genuine questions of accountability unanswered. Thompson noted that the Neptune Committee had taken NO ACTION after either woman was killed.

Dorothy Argyros, of Neptune Township made a passionate statement saying “You have to show interest in the death of this young woman….show interest like you do for the gate between Ocean Grove and Asbury Park!” (a reference to the level of engagement of the Committee on the status of a menial infrastructure upgrade.)

Derek Minno Bloom, of the Asbury Park Trinity Church Food Justice Program, stated his organization’s support for police oversight and the decriminalization of drug possession. “As a father, I couldn’t imagine if my child went out one day and because of how we treat drug possession, my child never came home” he said.

Kris Hlatky, Coalition for Educational Justice of Asbury Park and Neptune Township Resident said “The lack of humanity and responsibility associated with her death underscore the desperate need for legislative policies that decriminalize the use of drugs, as well as create community review boards to provide oversight of our police departments.”

Collectively, the group echoed Help Not Handcuffs’ policy positions for police oversight measures of Civilian Review Boards (which can be implemented at the local level) and Independent Prosecutors to investigate allegations of police misconduct, violence and sexual assault. Also, the group called for decriminalizing personal drug possession and eliminating forcible or coerced drug treatment, which has been proven to be harmful to individuals.