Essex County Police Academy graduated a class of Newark Special Police Officers

No Comments » Written on July 26th, 2014 by
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CEDAR GROVE — The Essex County Police Academy graduated its first Special Law Enforcement Officers II class on July 17 at the academy campus in Cedar Grove.

The class consisted exclusively of Newark police officers; Newark’s Police Academy closed in 2013.

The Essex County College facility at 250 Grove Ave. is one of 15 police academies in the state certified by the New Jersey Police Training Commission.

The graduates underwent 24 weeks of training; special officers will be assigned to fixed locations in Newark, such as stores and restaurants.

The academy also offers training for county corrections officers, detention officers and firefighters, as well as other first responder certifications and refresher courses. For more information, go to

Newark man gunned down in Central Ward

No Comments » Written on July 26th, 2014 by
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The Star Ledger

NEWARK — A Newark man was pronounced dead in the street after being shot Friday afternoon, authorities aid.

Michael Franklin, 44, was shot multiple times at the intersection of Muhammad Ali Avenue and Kipp Street around 4 p.m., said Thomas Fennelly, a chief assistant prosecutor with the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office.

Police officers responding to the scene found Franklin unresponsive, and he was pronounced dead at the scene just minutes later, at 4:14 p.m., said Fennelly.

Franklin was a 1988 graduate of Weequahic High School, said multiple friends mourning his death on Facebook.

“He was a loving, gentle father and grandfather. He was loved by many,” said Dewanaki Hill, a friend of Franklin’s since they were in the sixth grade together at Maple Avenue School. “I loved him like a brother and there is nothing negative anyone can say about him. As you can see, we all loved him.

“He was a friend and brother to us all. There’s not really more I can tell you, but he was a hard-working man, with a gentle heart,” the grief-stricken friend added.

Michael Franklin
Dewanaki Hill, Facebook

The investigation is underway, and detectives are asking anyone with information to contact the county’s Homicide Task Force, including Newark police detectives, at (877) 847-7432.

Franklin was the city’s 49th homicide victim, and the county’s 58th, so far this year.

Bashir Akinyele, a teacher at Weequahic High School who is also a member of the Newark Anti-Violence Coalition, said he did not know Franklin personally – but said the ongoing deaths in the state’s largest city were a public-health issue.

“The violence is a disease,” Akinyele said. “It’s going to continue until we solve the issues, like poverty, unemployment, and educational opportunities.”

Federal investigation of Newark police could bolster civil rights lawsuits,

No Comments » Written on July 26th, 2014 by
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The Star Ledger

NEWARK — Soon after returning to his Newark home in August 2012, Hansel Sosa said his doorbell began ringing incessantly.

Newark police officers were looking for a woman that Sosa claimed he didn’t know, and they forced their way into his home without a search warrant and wrongfully arrested him, court documents say. The charges were ultimately dismissed.

As Sosa now pursues a federal lawsuit against the Newark Police Department, his matter is among the civil rights cases that may be affected in the wake of findings released Tuesday by the Justice Department that showed patterns of constitutional violations by officers on the force.

“I think it spells big trouble for Newark as a defendant in these civil rights cases,” Sosa’s attorney, David Kreizer, said, adding that the findings “can certainly help to … bolster my claim.”

As Newark and federal officials prepare to implement a series of reforms in the police force with the oversight of a federal monitor, legal experts said the findings could lead to more civil rights lawsuits and provide a tool for attorneys in pursuing such cases.

But experts contend that although the findings in the federal report might bolster people’s civil rights claims, the cases still rise or fall on their own circumstances and evidence.

“It’s helpful, because it … lends some credibility to their claim, but it doesn’t prove their claim,” said John Kip Cornwell, a professor at Seton Hall University School of Law, referring to the Justice Department’s findings.

Newark officials declined to comment for this article, but on Tuesday, Mayor Ras Baraka welcomed the Justice Department’s findings and pledged to be a partner in reform.

As part of a three-year review of the Newark Police Department, federal investigators found constitutional violations in its pedestrian stops and the use of excessive force — disproportionately affecting blacks — among other findings outlined in the report.

In about 75 percent of the police reports analyzed for pedestrian stops, officers failed to articulate a constitutionally adequate reason for being detained, officials said. In more than 20 percent of the force incidents reviewed, the use of force appeared to be unreasonable, officials said.

Newark labor leaders call for civilian oversight as part of Police reform

No Comments » Written on July 25th, 2014 by
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The Star Ledger

NEWARK — Civil rights groups, labor leaders and others gathered at Newark City Hall this afternoon to demand a seat at the table as the city and U.S. Department of Justice work to formulate a plan to reform the city’s embattled police department.

The New Jersey chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union and NAACP, the New Jersey Working Families Alliance and People’s Organization for Progress were among the organizations that held a press conference to call for independent civilian oversight of the city’s police department — specifically in the form of a community advisory board and a civilian complaint review board with the power to both subpoena department records and discipline individual officers.

“We cannot have the fox guard the hen house,” said Udi Ofer, executive director of the state’s ACLU.

“Police officers are provided with extraordinary powers. Because they are given such extraordinary powers, we also need to make sure there are extraordinary measures to prevent abuses.”

The groups’ announcement comes two days after U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman and DOJ officials unveiled the results of a two-year investigation into the force’s practices and procedures. Among its findings was that up to 75 percent of the pedestrian “stop and frisks’ may have been unconstitutional, and that the city’s black residents had their rights violated more often than any other sector of the community.

Investigators also found that the department’s internal affairs division suffered from various systemic issues, that up to a fifth of its reported uses for force were excessive in nature, and that officers in various units had stolen from suspects and prisoners.

The groups, which also included the Ironbound Community Corporation and healthcare workers union 1199 SEIU, called the proposed reforms to the force a long-awaited moment that had potential to fundamentally change the lives of city residents.

“This is validation and affirmation to decades of marching and rallying for a stronger city and more just police department,” said RaShawn Davis, an ACLU organizer and Newark native.

The monitor, expected to be appointed in mid-September, will likely oversee the force for several years, depending on its ability to meet predetermined benchmarks designed to measure the pace of reform.

The creation of a community advisory board and civilian review board, the organizations argued, would ensure that the changes would remain in effect long after any monitor leaves town.

“No one can be expected to do a good job if there is no sense of accountability. If nobody is reviewing your work, if no one is ensuring the integrity of your work, it is very difficult to do a good job, no matter what your job is,” said Emily Turonis, an organizer with the Ironbound Community Corporation.

Whether federal authorities intend to impose such measures is unclear. While DOJ officials have reached an agreement in principle with city leaders that calls for “civilian review” of the police department and additional “community engagement”, U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said Tuesday that no specific plans for a complaint review board or other measures are in place.

Many of the speakers offered praise for new Mayor Ras Baraka’s welcoming stance toward federal intervention, and called on him to consult with members of the community while the city and DOJ finalize the details of an official consent decree that will finalize the reforms.

Good by Star Ledger

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The Star Ledger

NEWARK — The Star-Ledger has sold its long-time home in Newark, where the state’s largest daily newspaper was headquartered for nearly 50 years, according to publisher Richard Vezza.

The company would not disclose a sale price for the 177,000-square-foot building — many of the offices already vacant because of layoffs, attrition and the move of some operations to new offices in Woodbridge and Secaucus.

County property records show the property is assessed at $5 million.

The building and its parking deck are being purchased by Maddd Equities, a real estate investment, development and management firm located in Floral Park, N.Y., said Vezza.

“What their plans are, I don’t know,” he said.

The sale is expected to close in October, said Vezza.

Jorge Madruga, president of the firm which deals in commercial and residential development in the New York metropolitan area and parts of Florida, did not return numerous calls or emails to his office.

The Star-Ledger, which Vezza said will continue to be published seven days a week, will retain a presence in Newark in leased office space located within the downtown Gateway Center complex — where the publisher, the newspaper’s editorial board, its columnists, its magazine staff and a handful of other jobs will be based.

Advance Publications, the owner of the newspaper, launched a new media company this year — NJ Advance Media — that will be providing content, advertising and marketing services for its on-line presence at, and many of its New Jersey newspapers out of the offices in Woodbridge. The sales and marketing staffs moved to Woodbridge in June.

The newspaper has been at its current home at 1 Star-Ledger Plaza, located at the corner of Court and Washington streets, since 1966. But the big presses on the ground floor of the gray brick building were moved out long ago, and the newspaper itself has not been printed in Newark for years.

The newspaper earlier this year cut a third of its non-unionized employees. Most of the editorial staff retained by the new company will be moving to Woodbridge in September, with the editorial production staff relocating to new offices in Edison.

$10,000 reward for information about a Newark murder

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NEWARK — Authorities are offering a reward of up to $10,000 for information that leads to an arrest in the unsolved murder of a Newark man last year.

Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura said his department will offer the sum in cash to anyone who can lead detectives to those responsible for the slaying of 22-year-old DeShawn Johnson.

Johnson, 22, was shot once in the head on Nov. 19, after being last seen entering Mildred Helms Park in Newark’s South Ward.

After the shooting, two men were seen fleeing the area toward Hedden Terrace, but disappeared from view and have not been identified, Fontoura said. Johnson’s body was discovered by a passerby the following morning.

Anyone with information on the killing is asked to contact the Essex County Prosecutor’s Homicide Tips Line at (877) 847-7432. All tips will be considered strictly confidential.

NJ rated as the 8th best state to raise children

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The Star Ledger

With quality schools and accessible health care, New Jersey is the eighth best state in the country to raise a child, according to the latest annual Kids Count report card on family well-being.

The state could have ranked higher if poverty were less pervasive, the report said. New Jersey ranked 16 for family economic well-being. In 2012, 310,000 lived in low-income families, representing 15 percent of the state’s children. In 1990, 11 percent of children lived in low-income households.

Last year, New Jersey ranked fifth best.

New Jersey largely owes its top 10 ranking to its track record on education. With 87 percent of high school students graduating on time, 62 percent of children attending preschool, New Jersey is second only to Massachusetts on its education measures, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the nonprofit child and family research organization which produces the Kids Count report with Advocates for Children of New Jersey.

Even with 58 percent of fourth graders and 51 percent of eighth graders failing to show on standardized tests they are proficient in reading and math last year, respectively, New Jersey’s kids showed significant improvement over prior years, and still outperformed their peers in most other states, according to the report.

More children were covered by health insurance in 2012, with just 5 percent or about 103,000 kids missing coverage in 2012. The teen birth rate dropped significantly from 17 out of 1,000 of every baby born in 2012, from 23 births per capita in 2005, the report said.

“This is great news, as we celebrate more than two decades of publishing state Kids Count reports,” Cecilia Zalkind said, executive director of Advocates for Children of New Jersey. “It proves that measuring the well-being of our children can lead to positive change, ensuring that more children grow up safe, healthy and educated.”

New Jersey’s unemployment rate in 2012 was one of the highest in the country, and is reflected in the Kids Count report.

More than 500,000 children lived with parents who did not have a job or a steady payment; 920,000 children lived in housing their families struggled to afford because the rent or mortgage consumed more than one-third of their paycheck.

For 25 years, the Casey Foundation has collected and analyzed government data to show elected officials and policy makers where it should be putting its focus to improve the health and stability and family. The foundation, in collaboration with Advocates for Children, collect data on 16 measures that examine health, economics, family stability and education.

“The nation has gained significant knowledge since 1990 on how to give children a good start and help them meet major milestones throughout childhood,” said Casey President Patrick McCarthy. “The federal government and states have implemented a number of policies since then to improve several areas of child well-being. As we embark on the next 25 years, I urge all sectors to work collaboratively to develop and advance solutions that help all children succeed.”

Massachusetts ranked at the top; Mississippi ranked at the bottom, according to the report.

Mayor Baraka strikes the right tone on Federal Police Monitor

No Comments » Written on July 23rd, 2014 by
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The Star Ledger – Editorial Board

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and his new police director, Eugene Venable, are right to welcome a federal monitor to keep a watchful eye on the city’s department. This reform, announced by the Justice Department yesterday, has real potential to improve daily interactions between a distrustful community and its cops.

Local government has no reason to be defensive. A federal watchdog was helpful to State Police, which fell under supervision for about a decade after the shooting of three unarmed black men during a highway traffic stop in 1999. The state attorney general at the time supported it as a way to help eradicate racial profiling.

In Newark, the need is also clear. Evidence of police misbehavior is compelling. It was originally compiled in 2010 by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, which documented 418 allegations of misconduct, ranging from excessive force and illegal arrests to unlawful searches and seizures. Out of 261 internal affairs complaints of excessive force over a two-year period, just one was substantiated.

How could 260 out of 261 be wrong? That’s a red flag, the Justice Department agreed.

Yesterday, U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said Newark’s internal affairs unit is in need of an overhaul. So is its use of stop-and-frisk and illegal arrests. Up to 75 percent of pedestrian stops are potentially unconstitutional, and they disproportionately target the black population.

One Newark man was arrested after he loudly questioned officers’ decision to arrest his neighbor. Others were targeted for loitering or disrespectful behavior — not a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.

It’s hard to change police culture. These problems date back decades and will take years to solve. But Baraka is right that Newark must ensure its police are part of the community and “not there as an occupying force.”

Contrast his openness to the resistant attitudes of former Police Director Garry McCarthy and former Mayor Cory Booker, who both strongly opposed the idea of a federal monitor. In 2010, Booker accused the ACLU of promoting “negative stereotypes” of Newark with its complaint. McCarthy said the level of sustained complaints proved nothing, and suggested these were drug dealers making up lies: “So the cop always has to be wrong?” he said.

Of course not. But while police don’t like to be second-guessed, these statistics justify closer scrutiny. Newark’s leaders should view federal monitoring not as a punishment, but an opportunity: This is their chance to be on the right side of reform.

Feds investigate claims of racial discrimination in Newark school reorganization

No Comments » Written on July 23rd, 2014 by
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The Star Ledger
NEWARK — Federal officials are investigating claims that Newark’s school reorganization plan discriminates against the city’s African-American students.

Parents and a local education advocacy organization filed a Civil Rights complaint in May charging the One Newark plan – set to begin in September – unfairly harms African-American children and their families. The controversial plan consolidates and relocates one-quarter of the schools in the state-run district. It also allows charter schools to operate in three city-owned facilities.

Officials in the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights confirmed an investigation began this month.

“OCR is currently investigating whether Newark Public Schools’ enactment of the “One Newark” plan discriminated against black students on the basis of race,” a U.S. Department of Education spokesman said. “As it is an open investigation, we cannot share any further information.”

The complaint was filed on behalf of Newark parents and the Newark branch of New Jersey’s Parents Unified for Local School Education, or PULSE. They claim 86 percent of the students affected by “One Newark” changes are African American, while African-American students make up 51 percent of the entire district.

The lawsuit is one of several brought by the Journey for Justice Alliance and the Advancement Project, two nonprofit corporations concerned about education equity. Other complaints were filed against Chicago and New Orleans school districts.

Newark Public School officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

6 men pleaded “not guilty” in murder of Newark Pizza delivery man

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The Star Ledger
NEWARK — With the victim’s family and friends looking on in the courtroom, six men pleaded not guilty today to charges in the September 2013 robbery and fatal shooting of a Newark pizza deliveryman.

Less than a month after being indicted in the case, the defendants made brief appearances today on charges of killing 20-year-old Jesus Torres in Newark while he was working as a deliveryman for Pizza Hut.

The defendants, all of Newark, are Shaquille Faines, 22; Solomon Williams, 19; Raymond Hiers, 17; Ibn Muhammed, 18; Lonnie Simmons, 18; and Al-Shaqar Williams, 17. All of them have been charged as adults.

Each of the men have been indicted on felony murder, robbery and weapons charges.

Muhammed was the only defendant charged with knowing and purposeful murder, said Thomas Fennelly, chief assistant prosecutor of the Homicide Unit in the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office.

The incident occurred shortly before 10 p.m. on Sept. 1, 2013 in the area of 13th Avenue and South 11th Street in Newark, Fennelly said. While making his deliveries, Torres drove into that area and encountered the defendants, Fennelly said.

During the confrontation, Torres crashed his car and he was later shot while sitting in the vehicle, Fennelly said.

Outside the courtroom, Torres’ mother, Maria, said she wanted to attend the court appearances, because “I want justice for my son.” Watching the defendants, Torres said she grew angry and said the experience was like “opening up wounds again.”

“It took us by surprise…everyone’s still trying to cope with it,” Torres said. “He was a good kid.”

An aspiring musician, Jesus Torres, a Newark resident, also was interested in joining the Coast Guard and becoming a police officer, his mother said. He had recently taken the pizza delivery job to provide for his newborn son, his family said. “His son was his life,” Maria Torres said.

Torres’ aunt and godmother, Erica, described him as a humble and peaceful man. “Not one bone in his body was violent,” she said.