Under fire for the way they handled years of complaints about a local man's racist outbursts, the police chief in Mount Laurel is defending the actions of his officers.

Chief Stephen Riedener soundly condemned the words used by Edward Cagney Matthews, calling them "vile" and "absolutely disgusting," but said words alone were not grounds for arrest. Riedener acknowledged his officers knew Matthews "for all the wrong reasons."

In an interview with the Burlington County Times, the chief said he was "saddened that the victims suffered so long with him (Matthews) in their community." However, he insisted his officers were following the law when they declined to place Matthews under arrest because "there had to be an underlying offense."

The Burlington County Prosecutor's office has launched an investigation into how Reidener's officers handled past complaints involving Matthews.

Matthews was ultimately arrested after a racist tirade against a neighbor was caught on video. He was initially charged with bias intimidation. He has subsequently been charged with drug and weapons offenses after a search of his home, and remains jailed. A judge could decide as early as today if he will be released pending trial.

Mount Laurel Mayor Stephen Steglik has also defended the police department, and last week called for a federal hate crimes investigation.

The video of Matthews using racial slurs and repeated use of the n-word drew angry protesters to his home. As police led Matthews away, some in the crowd threw bottles and some of those bottles struck the responding officers. Reidener says investigators are viewing video, and if they identify who threw those bottles, they will be charged. As of now, no protestors have been arrested for the bottle throwing or property damage to Matthews condo and adjoining units.

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