BUENA, N.J. (CBS) — The Buena Regional Board of Education held an emergency meeting Wednesday night after a high school wrestler was forced by a referee to cut his hair or forfeit a match last week. Emotions ran high Wednesday evening and the community did not mince words when it came to the public comment portion of the meeting.
The Johnson family attorney says he’s still trying to figure out why this happened in the first place. And so far, no one seems to have an answer.
It’s the cellphone video that shocked the nation. As 16-year-old-Andrew Johnson stood before a crowded gymnasium as his dreadlocks were cut.
It was an ultimatum by the referee: Either cut the locks, or forfeit the match.
“The blame here is on the referee,” Johnson family attorney Dominic Speziali said.
Speziali spoke on Johnson’s behalf — who was not at the meeting.
Referee Alan Maloney had said Johnson’s head cover was insufficient, however there are claims Maloney showed up to the meet late and didn’t mention anything about Johnson’s hair when he previously checked him out.
“I would also question whether there was other administrators there at that gym who did not do what Ms. Maxwell did and at least plead with the ref to have him not conduct it in that manner,” Speziali questioned.
And when it came to public comment, the community did not hold back.
“I couldn’t believe that this pig would humiliate that kid on the mat,” Steve Martinelli said.
“This young man will never ever forget the physical and mental toll he took that night,” Action Together New Jersey Civil Rights Director Rachel Green said. “As a mother raising children in this area, it broke my heart. It didn’t matter if he was black, white, green or purple.”
Many came from all across South Jersey, like Green, for the emergency meeting. She and others are hoping there are procedures in place so this situation doesn’t happen again.
“You had to have an ugly situation like this happen for them to address this,” Green said. “It speaks to something tells me this isn’t the first time something ugly like this has happened. I think people just thought this was OK.”
The family attorney tells Eyewitness News that the family is supportive of the coaching staff and the trainer who cut his locks.
There’s a wrestling meet tomorrow,but Johnson will not be participating.
For now, the investigation is ongoing and the district will not participate in any meets being refereed by Maloney.