NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Someone was shot inside a vehicle in broad daylight for the second time in less than a week here, and this time the victim is dead.
Little information is available about this and other recent incidents of daytime gun violence in New Brunswick, including one shooting where police responded and arrested the victim, and another where a significant delay ensued before nearby city schools took safety precautions.
The latest incident took place at approximately 4:35pm on April 19 at the corner of Handy Street and Paul Robeson Boulevard, where it was clear that a crash had also taken place involving three vehicles.
One source told this reporter that two people were transported to the hospital, including a woman driving the red vehicle that was sandwiched between the other two in the crash.
A black Nissan sport utility vehicle and a grey Honda were on either side of the red vehicle. The driver’s seatbelt was hanging out of the door of the Honda, and what appeared to be blood was visible in the street where the driver would have exited the vehicle.
Onlookers gathered around in Feaster Park and on the surrounding streets. Police blocked off several blocks of Paul Robeson Boulevard, formerly known as Commercial Avenue.
One block away from the scene of the shooting, NBPD Detective Joshua Alexander was observed taking photographs of another black Nissan vehicle on Baldwin Street. Alexander managed to keep his position despite being caught lying under oath in a marijuana case after prosecutors attempts to suppress the information failed.
“Authorities responded to the area of Handy Street and Paul Robeson Boulevard and located a male victim who
was shot while driving his vehicle,” confirms a brief statement released by police and prosecutors at 9:23pm.
The statement did not mention the crash or name the deceased, stating only that he “was transported to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead.”
Because the incident was fatal, Middlesex County Prosecutor Yolanda Ciccone and her office will lead the investigation.
In two prior daytime shootings, the New Brunswick Police Department (NBPD) and Director Anthony Caputo were in charge of disseminating information the investigations, and his Deputy Director JT Miller chose not to issue press releases or crime alerts. A pattern has emerged where some incidents with no injuries are publicized if they are near Rutgers University, but even shootings are kept quiet if they are not.
For years, Miller has repeatedly refused to disclose the total number of shootings in the city, a figure that he would previously provide upon request.
“I am not your personal assistant and I do not work for your internet blog,” Miller told this reporter last year, before his promotion from Captain to Deputy Director. A myriad of city officials also helped to keep Miller’s new $212,844 salary a secret from the public for months before it finally came out at the April 7 City Council meeting.
One week later, a 29-year-old man from the Somerset section of Franklin Township was rushed the hospital after being shot in the leg while sitting inside a vehicle on Van Dyke Avenue, an area of town that contains the city’s stock of public housing, and a warehouse that has served as a temporary school for nearly two decades.
That incident took place on April 14 at approximately 1:30pm, according to police, near the intersection with Route 27 and the line that divides New Brunswick and Franklin.
But it wasn’t until almost a half-hour later that nearby school buildings, including one located about 1000 feet away from the gunfire, declared a “shelter in place,” from 1:58 pm to 2:21 pm, according to Superintendent of Schools Aubrey Johnson.
According to emergency radio transmissions, ambulances were dispatched to the shooting scene at approximately 1:42pm, 16 minutes before the school district took action.
Superintendent Johnson did not respond to follow-up questions about the delay in taking safety measures, nor did Deputy Director Miller. Both also failed to respond to questions about when the district was notified about the shooting.
Like in the recent killing, New Brunswick police did not alert the general public to the chaos using their Nixle alert system, social media, or the city government website. It’s unclear if parents of school children at the nearby McKinley School were ever informed by school district officials.
Instead, it was New Brunswick Today’s Carlos Ramirez that reported live from the scene of the April 14 crime, as investigators took photographs and collected evidence in the middle of the street.
Just two days earlier, for the first time, the students of Lincoln Annex School were bused to the converted warehouse at 40 Van Dyke Avenue, less than half a mile from the scene of the crime. Their former school is being demolished after being sold to a private developer by the Board of Education.
New Brunswick’s High School is also less than a half-mile away from the Van Dyke Avenue scene but it was not yet open to students at the time, after being closed for more than a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to one source, the shooter was lurking in the nearby public housing looking for their target, before driving on Van Dyke Avenue when a black Audi rolled past in the opposite direction.
The grey car with the shooter then made a U-turn before pulling alongside the Audi, firing multiple shots at the driver, and fleeing on Route 27 South.
The Audi was visible at the scene with about a half dozen bullet holes in the driver’s side, and a grey Honda sport utility vehicle was parked behind it inside the crime scene tape. But it was a different grey vehicle that fled the scene after the shots rang out, according to our sources.
Nine hours after the incident, the New Brunswick Police Department (NBPD) Deputy Director JT Miller provided a response to our request for information under the state’s Open Public Records Act (OPRA) and Executive Order 69.
“Upon the officer’s arrival they located a 29 year old male victim from Somerset, NJ with a possible gunshot wound to his leg,” wrote Miller.
Miller said the investigation was ongoing and the suspect was “unidentified.”
The morning after that shooting, Governor Phil Murphy appeared at an event in Newark, announcing what he called “perhaps the most sweeping gun reform package in our nation’s history.”
“Half of our state’s gun homicides occur in only five cities,” said Murphy, who did not mention New Brunswick. A Governor’s Office press release claimed gun crimes had “skyrocketed” in these five cities, without identifying them.
A Murphy spokesperson clarified that the five cities were Newark, Jersey City, Paterson, Trenton, and Camden.
Attempts to procure statistics that would show how the Hub City compares to the top five were unsuccessful. The New Jersey State Police still has not publicized any crime statistics for 2021, and has not responded substantively to our request for statistics specific to New Brunswick.
New Brunswick’s Mayor and City Council have also dodged questions about the apparent increase in violent crimes over the course of 2021, and this reporter has decided to bring civil litigation against the city government in an attempt to force the NBPD to be more transparent.
The Van Dyke Avenue incident was at least the second aggravated assault in that neighborhood in a two-week period, and at least the second daytime shooting since police quietly arrested a shooting victim and charged him with intent to distribute cocaine almost a month earlier.
At about 12:20pm on March 19, shots rang out in the area of Seaman Street, according to multiple sources. But the NBPD won’t admit that.
That afternoon, police were observed and photographed searching nearby on Suydam Street for evidence, looking on the ground, the sidewalks, and in garbage cans.
Among the issues raised in this reporter’s lawsuit is the NBPD refusing to confirm what is obvious here: that a shooting took place. Instead, NBPD has decided to keep it a secret what weapon was used, if any, in the incident, only referring to the matter as “an aggravated assault.”
“New Brunswick police officers responded to an aggravated assault in the area of Lee Avenue and Seaman Street,” wrote Deputy Director Miller. “A victim of the assault was located getting into a vehicle and trying to flee the area driven by another individual. The vehicle was stopped by the officers and the victim was rendered aid until EMS arrived and transported the victim to RWJUH.”
Miller’s response came more than two days after we first asked about the apparent shooting. The state’s Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requires police to reveal such information “within 24 hours or as soon as practicable.”
Miller said the victim, 23-year-old Jared Washington, was arrested and charged with drug offenses after being “found in possession of a significant quantity of cocaine.”
“He was also found to have an outstanding domestic violence warrant out of Somerset County,” said Miller.
“The preliminary investigation suggest that Mr. Washington was assaulted by a light skin, African American male with dreadlocks. The suspect fled in the direction of Remsen Avenue.”
Since then, police have also kept quiet about at least four other aggravated assaults with deadly weapons:
- March 22 at Baldwin Street and Lee Avenue
- March 26 at 97 Louis Street
- March 29 at 142 Remsen Avenue
- April 3 on Paterson Street
The NBPD has also kept quiet about a pair of recent robberies somewhere one George Street, including one on April 6 and another where a firearm was pointed at someone on April 9. Even less information is available about a “firearms related” incident, also on George Street, that appears to have occurred shortly before 3pm on March 27.
None of this was reported to the general public by city police, escaping scrutiny from the press and the awareness of the public until after the incidents appear as markers on the city’s online crime map or in responses to New Brunswick Today’s requests under the OPRA.
But, despite directing us to file requests under the Open Public Records Act to obtain information about how many of these aggravated assaults are shootings, Miller has stonewalled and refused to provide information about arrests and what weapons were reportedly used in the crimes. Miller’s responses also often omit incidents that we are aware of.
That’s why this reporter filed a lawsuit against Miller and the city government on April 1, citing section 3b of the Open Public Records Act, which requires certain information be swiftly made available about ongoing criminal investigations.
“Unfortunately it looks like the only thing that will change New Brunswick’s behavior is a direct court order that requires the defendants to produce [the required] information, especially information regarding the type of weapon used,” said Walter Luers, who is representing the author of this article in the lawsuit.
“Going back to Governor Kean, that’s information that’s by law been public record to the journalists and the residents of this state, and this recalcitrance has to stop.”
Crime continues to be a big issue in the city, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic wares on, increasing stress and sometimes leading to dramatic conflicts in the street.
A 51-year-old man was shot dead inside a vehicle at the corner of Seaman and Remsen in the early morning hours of February 27, capping off a violent month that saw more than double the number of aggravated assaults as January, despite heavy winter storms.
New Brunswick was the scene of at least 22 reported “aggravated” assaults in the month of February, up sharply from the eleven in January. NBPD responded to our request for all required information about all aggravated assaults in the month of March with a document that listed thirteen incidents, but we know of at least another four that were omitted.
Mayor James Cahill, who has been in office since 1991, still has not made a public statement about the mass shooting that occurred last September on Delafield Street, killing two men and injuring seven others.
Though the NBPD has refused to confirm it, at least 32 people were shot in the Hub City last year, a fact New Brunswick Today learned after turning to State Police for information.
Cahill “had no comment to offer” on the spike in aggravated assaults, according to his spokesperson, Bert Baron.
City Council members also avoided responding to concerns and questions about the increase in aggravated assaults at their meetings in March, which were conducted via telephone conference. However, they responded in detail to to a concern that a police officer was rude to a citizen when responding to a parking-related call.
But by the April 7 meeting, Council had received an emailed comment from a disappointed resident that called out the current state of the Second Ward.
“For the past year, ever since the COVID-19 pandemic began, myself and the members of my development, have observed an increase in illicit activity happening on the corner of Seaman and Remsen Ave,” wrote Keturah Bardouille, a Baldwin Street homeowner who copied New Brunswick Today on her message to the City Council.
“Lately, there has been a steady increase in drug activity, prostitution and crime, taking place in what appears to be a 24/7 cycle. Large groups of people gather in the same area daily, who all appear to be part of this ecosystem of illicit activity. There is literally a drug dealing drive-through on Remsen Avenue, often in broad daylight, as if it were any Starbucks or McDonalds.”
“If you ever watched the tv show the Wire, it literally looks like Hamsterdam between Seaman and Baldwin Street, on Remsen Avenue,” reads her comment, referencing the zones of a fictionalized Baltimore where police allowed the drug trade to flourish in an attempt to contain it.
“I’m finding hypodermic needles on the sidewalks, and most recently, on the grounds of my Development. As a parent, I’m fearful my daughter/one of her friends may pickup a needle while playing outside.”
Her comments were not read aloud at the Council meeting, but they were enough to prompt what weeks of pestering from New Brunswick Today had not: a response.
“The Council and staff received an email from the public regarding illicit activity in the Second Ward,” said City Council President Suzanne Sicora-Ludwig, before passing it off to Deputy Director Miller to respond.
“Residents are concerned about drug activity and loitering in the area. We have made it a directed patrol as well as a street crimes unit is in that area to enforce illicit activity,” said Miller, adding that the NBPD will also deploy its mobile police precinct to the area and meet with the Second Ward Crime Watch.
With situation appearing to get worse, not better, some of the same issues are likely to come up at the Council’s next meeting on April 21 at 5:30pm.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.