Domestic abuse is a social phenomenon that perpetuates itself, and thus continues to escalate if not addressed. Criminal sanctions are a key component of society’s response to this crisis, and the Domestic Violence Unit of the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office seeks to carry out this responsibility within Essex County. This unit practices vertical prosecution, retaining most cases from screening through resolution, including trial and sentencing when necessary.
Domestic Violence Crisis Response Teams: The majority of municipalities in Essex County have established Domestic Violence Crisis Response Teams. The teams are comprised of civilian volunteers who provide Domestic Violence victims with information regarding criminal charges and obtaining Restraining Orders. Team members also provide referrals to victims regarding counseling, support groups and battered women’s shelters. The Domestic Violence Unit works closely with these Teams to help victims gain both immediate assistance and eventual justice. For additional information regarding Domestic Violence Crisis Response Teams, please contact your local police department or the Domestic Violence Unit of the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office at 973-621-6488 or 973-621-2081.
The Essex County Prosecutor’s Office has established an innovative Municipal Court Victims’ Advocate Program. The program was instituted to address the needs of domestic violence victims at the Municipal level, where a majority of domestic violence cases are handled. Victims’ Advocates appear in the Municipal Courts throughout Essex County in order to provide information, support and guidance to domestic violence victims along with referrals for counseling and battered women’s shelters.
During 2014, the members of the Domestic Violence Unit processed 1,699 domestic violence cases for a total of 1,721 defendants. Assistant Prosecutors presented 307 cases to the Grand Jury during this period. In addition, 11 forfeiture petitions were considered. With respect to our vertical prosecutions, the Domestic Violence Unit retained 53 cases for plea or trial.
The following are examples of the spectrum of cases handled by the Domestic Violence Unit in 2014:
On January 31, 2014, Geraldo Mendez pled guilty to Attempted Murder and Endangering Welfare of a Child. The defendant fired a gun at his girlfriend and her teenage daughter on a public street. No one was injured. On April 4, 2014, the defendant was sentenced to 13 years in State Prison, 85% of which he must serve before being eligible for parole pursuant to the No Early Release Act (NERA).
Defendant Danny Martin was charged with a heinous domestic violence incident wherein he stabbed his girlfriend numerous times with a knife. He pled guilty to Attempted Murder and Aggravated Assault. On February 18, 2014, the defendant was sentenced to 11 years in State Prison, 85% of which he must serve before being eligible for parole pursuant to NERA.
Defendant Edward Thomas pled guilty to Attempted Murder and Aggravated Assault for stabbing his girlfriend with a large knife. When the children of the victim intervened to assist her, the defendant stabbed the children. The defendant then stabbed himself. On July 25, 2014, the defendant was sentenced to 10 years in State Prison, 85% of which he must serve before being eligible for parole pursuant to NERA.
On July 30, 2014, Raymond Gregory pled guilty to three counts of Burglary, Theft and Criminal Mischief for burglarizing the home of his ex-girlfriend, and on one occasion inflicted bodily injury upon her. On January 12, 2015, he was sentenced to eight years in State Prison, 85% of which he must serve before being eligible for parole pursuant to NERA.
Defendant Dawn Lockwood-Briant and her ex-boyfriend were employed as traveling carnival workers. The defendant stabbed a friend who was flirting with her ex-boyfriend and stabbed her ex-boyfriend when he intervened. The defendant pled guilty to Aggravated Assault and Unlawful Possession of a Weapon. On April 17, 2014, the defendant was sentenced to 3 years in State Prison, 85% of which he must serve before being eligible for parole pursuant to NERA.
On November 21, 2014, Diane Ali pled guilty to Simple Assault and Menacing. The defendant threw a liquid substance in her husband’s eyes, causing a burn injury.
The Essex County Prosecutor’s Office has been a lead partner in the establishment of the Essex County Family Justice Center (FJC), the first such Center in New Jersey. The FJC model is recognized as a best practice in the field of domestic violence intervention and prevention by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women. The FJC brings together domestic violence advocates, civil legal service providers and other community-based organizations under one roof, as to provide crisis intervention, safety planning, counseling, self-sufficiency services and access to the criminal justice system through a liaison to the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office. In May, 2010, the Center opened in temporary space in the Wilentz Justice Complex. In the fall of 2011, the FJC moved to a permanent space at 89 Market St, Newark, NJ where 10 partner agencies provide vital services to victims.
The Domestic Violence personnel continues to play a significant role in the Essex County’s Domestic Violence Working Group. The Unit’s director chairs the Law Enforcement Subcommittee comprising members of law enforcement, the judiciary, victim service providers, probation officers and Domestic Violence Crisis Response Team members. The Domestic Violence Working Group addresses systemic problems in the domestic violence field and endeavors to coordinate the efforts of the various member organizations. The group is instrumental in implementing the dictates of New Jersey’s Domestic Violence Procedures Manual.
Members of the Domestic Violence Unit continue to appear at automatic bail reviews of defendants charged with crimes of domestic violence. These reviews are scheduled before a Superior Court Judge most weekdays. As part of this initiative, the Unit has assumed responsibility for victim notification relative to this automatic bail process. Victim contact, at this early stage of the prosecution, enables the Assistant Prosecutor to better assess the merits of the case.
For more information about domestic violence and what to do if you are a victim, please see the Frequently Asked Questions section.