RAHWAY—The public has no right to know the facts about a city councilman also employed as a public school teacher who commits an act of domestic violence in a school parking lot against a co-worker, with whom he was allegedly engaged in an extramarital affair.
The same principle holds that government officials can keep facts secret if police arrested and convicted an innocent man or if school officials unjustly fired a superb teacher.
Councilman Bobby Akbar, who is married and has three children, was arrested Feb 26 on domestic violence charges outside of Franklin Elementary School after he appeared to use his car to knock down another teacher, according to police who were at the scene.
This matter can only be classified as a domestic violence incident, according to state law, if they had a sexual or dating relationship but both Akbar and Kimberly Prakapas, the purported victim, deny that the incident should be classified as that kind of case.
Still, Prakapas declined to authorize a release of police records despite her denial and she contends, “It’s a mystery” why she was informed that she would not be re-appointed despite having “phenomenal” job performance ratings.
Prakapas, a 23-year-old graduate of Montclair State University who worked as a substitute teacher in Rahway for two years before being appointed as a fifth grade teacher at Franklin School for the 2008-09 school year, was forced to resign her $50,212 job as a result of the incident.
Akbar, 32, pleaded guilty in a court of law to reduced charges that remain cloaked in secrecy afforded to domestic violence matters.
In separate interviews, Akbar and Prakapas both contend nothing happened, but if that is true then police acted precipitously by arresting an innocent man and school officials fired a young teacher without just cause.
Prakapas claimed she was working late and left school at about 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 26, when she saw Akbar in his car.
“I went to open his door (to discuss a work-related matter),” Prakapas said. “He was backing out and I got knocked down by the momentum of the vehicle.”
She also said that Akbar was not in school that day, but police who were on the scene for an unrelated matter witnessed the events and placed Akbar under arrest.
“They asked what happened, and I told them I fell,” Prakapas said of the plain clothes police who responded. “I did not know they were police at first. They asked if I was okay and I said I was not hurt.”
Akbar, who has been teaching fifth grade at the school for six years, told the News Record he was unaware that Prakapas was “trying to get my attention” as he pulled away from a space in the school parking lot.
Akbar did not explain why he was at the school more than four hours after classes were dismissed and he did not return calls seeking clarifying comments.
Observers report that Akbar made a dramatic spectacle during his arrest, but police will not release any record of the event captured on car-mounted video cameras.
Akbar pleaded guilty in Clark municipal court to disturbing the peace and he was ordered to pay a $500 fine, thus avoiding a domestic violence trial on assault charges.
The charge—downgraded from simple assault to disturbing the peace—allows the entire episode to be covered up as a domestic violence case, a status that shrouds key details behind a wall of legal secrecy, without fully subjecting the councilman to public scrutiny or holding police and education officials accountable.
Akbar expressed belief that the event will have no impact in his elected office or public school teaching job. Michael B. Campagna, the defense lawyer representing Akbar, suggested that the plea bargain somehow vindicated his client.
Contrary to those remarks, when a defendant pleads guilty it does not mean he is innocent.
Akbar’s behavior was called inappropriate by the Clark prosecutor and his guilty plea raises a variety of questions concerning the credibility of statements about the matter he gave during his interview.
Akbar was charged with assault, but a source familiar with the matter suggested that he should have also been charged with reckless driving.
Arrest reports, statements made by the victim and officers on the scene, the video footage mentioned earlier, and anything else that might shine light on the truth is hidden from public view in mystery. Secrets abound whether justice was served.
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