Acting Essex County Prosecutor Robert D. Laurino announced today that the spike in violent carjackings in Essex County that surged during the holiday season of 2010 was largely caused by three separate groups of juveniles who appeared to attack motorists for sport.
Acting Prosecutor Laurino announced today that his office will seek to prosecute these juveniles as adults.
Five juveniles have been arrested by members of the newly created carjacking law enforcement task force for their role in the crime spree. Created last month, the task force includes representatives of the FBI, the Newark Police Department and the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office.
In addition to the juveniles, three adults have been arrested by the Newark Police Department. The individuals under arrest are believed to be part of three groups of armed teens who randomly selected victims. In some cases the victims were driving high-end cars such as BMWs and Range Rovers. In other instances, the targets drove a Volkswagen Jetta, a Mazda CX7 and an Acura.
“They recklessly and without regard for human life brandished weapons and created a clear danger to the community,’’Acting Prosecutor Laurino said.
“There has been a general rise in carjacking, and we just hit an unbelievable spike in the month of December. We are addressing our hot spots in the north, west and south,’’ said Newark Police Director Garry F. McCarthy.
The investigation is active and ongoing. Additional arrests are expected to be made. The youths involved in these incidents are believed to have been involved in more than a dozen carjackings during the holiday season.
“We believe that the efforts that we are continuing to take with our law enforcement partners evidence our total commitment to addressing this recent problem,’’ Acting Prosecutor Laurino said.
In 2009, there were 169 carjackings in Newark. In 2010, there were 288, a 70 percent increase.
Because of the sharp spike in carjackings, Acting Prosecutor Laurino convened a crime summit on Dec. 6 with representatives of the Newark, East Orange, Orange and Irvington police departments.
At that time, efforts were undertaken to improve communications among law enforcement agencies.
Later in December an investigative carjacking task force with representatives of the FBI, the Newark Police Department and the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office was established. Members of the task force noticed a pattern in these cases and were able to identify the crews involved in the carjackings.
A big break came in the case on Dec. 23 when detectives arrested and charged two juveniles involved in a carjacking on Manchester Place in Newark. Since those arrests, members of the task force were able to develop criminal intelligence that led to the arrests of members of a crew that committed carjackings on Tichenor, Valley and North 12th Streets in Newark and Rhode Island Avenue in East Orange.
The juveniles involved in these carjackings range in age from 15 to 17 years old.
They include a 15-year-old from Newark who is charged in five carjackings; a 16-year-old from Irvington who is charged in three carjackings and one attempted carjacking; a 17-year-old from Paterson charged in two carjackings and one attempted carjacking; and a 17-year-old from East Orange who has been charged with receiving stolen property. He was arrested inside a carjacked vehicle.
“We did not make the decision to waive these juveniles up to adult court lightly,’’ said Acting Prosecutor Laurino.
“Every year the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office brings charges against nearly 3,000 juveniles. We carefully review each case. Only in the cases involving the most serious crimes do we make an application to have a minor tried as an adult. In these carjacking cases, based on the serious nature of the crimes committed, we believe these juveniles should be tried as adults,’’ said Acting Prosecutor Laurino.
“A number of the juveniles were armed with handguns and rifles. Victims were forcibly removed from their vehicles at gunpoint. In one incident a shot was fired, but no one was injured. These juveniles will not be permitted to continue to terrorize the community,’’ the Acting Prosecutor added.
Newark Mayor Cory Booker along with Newark Police McCarthy worked closely with the Acting Prosecutor to address the surge in carjackings.
“The Newark Police Department and its county and federal partners launched the carjacking task force as soon as it became apparent that we were at the beginning of a troubling trend, and it has already brought encouraging results,’’ said Mayor Booker. “Let this response be heard loud and clear by anyone who would consider committing a crime in Newark. Our brave and dedicated police officers, law enforcement partners, and the Newark community simply won’t tolerate dangerous and illegal behavior. We will innovate, pursue you and you will be caught.
In addition to the juveniles, on Dec. 8, Newark Police arrested Wayne Lewis, 22, of Newark; Jequele McKenzie, 19, of Newark and Reginald Anderson, 19, of Newark. Lewis and Anderson have been charged with carjacking and weapons offenses. McKenzie has been charged with possession of stolen property. All three are believed to be part of a group engaged in carjackings in and around the North Ward section of Newark, near Stephen Crane Village, a housing project.
“Our State Legislature recognized the seriousness of this type of offense. That is why in 1993 when they passed the carjacking statute, they set the maximum punishment at 30 years imprisonment,’’ Acting Prosecutor Laurino said.
The Acting Prosecutor stated he will refer these cases for trial to a new Special Prosecution Unit that will be staffed with the most experienced trial attorneys in the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office.
These charges are mere accusations. All defendants are presumed to be innocent unless and until they are found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.