Zach Patberg reports for the Asbury Park Press:
Elchonon Zimmerman, an Orthodox Jewish teacher, was found not guilty Thursday of assaulting a 15-year-old black male last year.
The ruling, after a day-long trial at municipal court, capped a 15-month civil rights drama that brought rallies and racial tensions to the community.
Zimmerman, 44, was charged in May 2006 with simple assault after getting into a confrontation with Jamarr Dickerson in a predominately Orthodox neighborhood [of Lakewood]. Both parties claim the other punched first when Zimmerman, thinking Dickerson appeared suspicious walking through an alley way behind homes on Lawrence Avenue, approached him.
The judge, Scott J. Basen, said Thursday that he could not find Zimmerman guilty but did feel his actions toward Dickerson were biased and based on his skin color.
In the end, it came down to he said / he said. Because Dickerson was alone, the only 'witnesses' were haredi. Dickerson claimed haredim rushed out of an adjacent synagogue and joined Zimmerman in beating him and holding him down until police came.
Dickerson – an honors student at the local high school – was only accused by haredim of acting suspiciously by walking in broad daylight on a well-used and publicized short cut between two haredi properties. Rabbi Zimmerman confronted the youth and, according to Dickerson, attacked him while calling for help. Other haredim rushed out of the neighboring synagogue and joined in the beating. Rabbi Zimmerman claimed Dickerson punched first although, if memory serves, he did admit to attempting to block Dickerson's path and detain him before any blows were thrown.
The judge's comments are a reflection of those facts.