A university in New Jersey said it would not renew the employment contract with a former police officer who killed a black teenager in a shooting 26 years ago, following a petition calling for his firing.
In a June 8 statement, Rowan University President Ali Houshmand said that the decision not to reappoint Peter Amico as director of the university’s Office of Emergency Management was made “amid the national spotlight on social justice and police matters.”
Amico, then 29, was a police officer at Glassboro in April 1994 when he responded to a domestic dispute in which 14-year-old Eltarmaine Sanders was chasing his cousin with a knife, according to a New York Times report at that time. Amico, who is white, said that Sanders charged at him with the knife as soon as he arrived on the scene and that he fatally shot the black teenager in self-defense.
The U.S. Department of Justice launched an investigation into Sanders’ killing and found no civil rights violation a year later, noted Houshmand in his statement. A county grand jury also declined to bring any charges against Amico, although eyewitnesses disputed the officer’s account of what happened.
Houshman said Amico has been working with Rowan University since September 2008 as a private contractor. Amico was hired full-time in 2010, a year after he retired from Glassboro police department. At Rowan, he was tasked with preparing and responding to natural disasters and other emergencies.
“Given the circumstances of Amico’s employment prior to serving at the University and the necessarily painstaking evaluation of Rowan’s institutional commitment to racial justice and equity, Amico’s employment will be discontinued,” said Houshman, in response to an online petition demanding Rowan to fire Amico, while calling his employment a “revolting insult to the Sanders family and to African Americans everywhere.”
The petition, which came in the wake of nationwide uproar triggered by the death of George Floyd in Minnesota, gained nearly 3,500 supporting signatures from Glassboro community in a week.
The past week has seen colleges and school districts reviewing the role of police on their campuses, as many advocate groups urge the institutions to either cut ties with local police departments or dismantle their own police forces. Minneapolis Public Schools became the first to sever its relationship with the city’s police department. Meanwhile, in Chicago, teachers’ union members are also calling for the removal of police in public schools, a demand that has been dismissed by Lori Lightfoot, the city’s mayor.