The charges were filed following a search of Edward Cagney Mathews’ residence by the Mt. Laurel Police Department. One of the victims of the harassment charges reported to police that she suspected Mathews had used a ball bearing (BB) gun to damage vehicles belonging to her and her daughter.
The investigation revealed that Mathews had fired the BB gun at two vehicles belonging to his female neighbors, causing $2,350 in damage, and is accused of stalking one of the vehicle owners. Mathews also had numerous psilocybin mushrooms found in his home, which are known for their hallucinogenic effect, along with packaging materials, according to a police report.
Mathews is being held in the Burlington County Jail in Mt. Holly. His arrest came hours after he was captured on video yelling racial slurs at a Black neighbor, then shouting his own address and challenging neighbors to “come see me.”
More than 100 people – including neighbors and participants from Burlington and Camden counties – took Mathews up on his offer and stood outside his Essex Place home to protest, then reportedly threw bottles at him as police took him into custody.
The July 5 incident came on the heels of other instances where Mathews allegedly hurled racial slurs at his African American neighbors.
“I think if we would have never shown up his arrest would have never happened,” said Burlington County resident and protester Shanta Smith. “I think [Mathews] would have been still sitting home comfortably in his bed today.”
But neighbors were also critical of the Mt.Laurel police, who they say mishandled previous instances of Mathews’ alleged harassment.
Police were initially called to Mathews’ neighborhood at about 8 p.m. on July 2, after Verlyn Gibbons accused Mathews of harassing her by using offensive language and racial slurs. Gibbons, who is on the housing association board in the neighborhood, said she first spoke with police earlier that day about damage to her car she believed was caused by Mathews, according to a police report.
The later call to police came after Mathews allegedly approached Gibbons’ door and denied causing damage to her vehicle. Mathews was captured on a home- security camera ringing Gibbons’ doorbell and walking his dogs to the front yard of her home. Then the video captured Mathews hurling more racial slurs as he walked away.
During another incident on July 2, an officer responded to the scene at 1101 Coventry Way, the same townhome complex where Mathews and Gibbons live, and the home of Denise and Leron Brown. According to police, Mathews was involved in a verbal altercation with four neighbors at that address, again using racial epithets and asking, “Did you know monkeys live here?” until police convinced him to leave the area. He then allegedly approached another neighbor’s front door and attempted to get inside, until a neighbor stepped in to block the doorway, according to a police report.
“It is difficult to overstate how vile and despicable the conduct by this defendant towards his neighbors was on Friday night,” Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina said in a statement. “No one should ever have to deal with such hatred thrown in their face anywhere, but especially on their own doorstep.
“That said, it was unfortunate that some participants in yesterday’s protest resorted to violence and the destruction of property, including that of the defendant’s neighbors, as officers tried to escort the defendant from his home to the waiting patrol car,” he added, referring to the protesters who reportedly threw bottles at Mathews but also hurled objects at homes in the neighborhood.
The day after Mathews’ arrest, community members gathered outside the police department and sought answers on why the July 2 incident with Mathews did not result in more police action, and what changes the department will make going forward.
Camden resident Gary Frazier, who attended the protests outside Mathews’ house and the police department, said police need reform with regard to anti-oppression, diversity and conflict resolution training.
“We’re not going to stop until we have justice, not just here in Mt. Laurel, but also in the whole entire state of New Jersey,” he said. “As we stand here right now, there has not been one police reform in regards to racism.”
Mayor Stephen Steglik said he plans to have council establish a diversity and inclusion board made up of Mt. Laurel residents to improve the township’s dialogue with communities.
“We need to further look at the bureaucratic challenges that block us from responding the way the public deserves and should expect,” the mayor said in a statement posted to his Facebook and Twitter accounts. “We must have accountability and transparency as to why the process to get Mathews in police custody was filled with loopholes that seemingly protected a known harasser at the expense of the safety of law abiding residents.”
Anyone who has information on the harassment incidents can submit it to the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office at email@example.com or to the Mt. Laurel Police Department at firstname.lastname@example.org. To report by phone, call (856) 234-1414, ext.1599.