The ECPO Special Victims Unit was formed in 2010 in order to better coordinate the efforts of the ECPO Child Abuse Unit, the ECPO Sexual Assault and Rape Analysis (SARA) Unit, and the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) Program. These three units are presently co-located at the Winona M. Lipman Child Advocacy Center at 185 Washington Street in Newark. This allows the efficient and synergistic sharing of resources, information and experience between these units, whose roles and involvements in any particular case often overlap. These three functions within the Special Victims Unit now operate under the unified command of one Assistant Prosecutor / Director and a Captain of Detectives, and are overseen by a Deputy Chief Assistant Prosecutor. An on-site Victim Witness Counselor assigned by the Victim Witness Advocacy Office works closely with this staff. This combined Unit is also expanding its scope of service, e.g. to abused elderly victims and human trafficking victims.
The Sexual Assault and Rape Analysis (SARA) Unit is one of the oldest investigative units in the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office. It originated in the 1970′s after the Newark Police Department became one of the first police departments in the nation to establish a sex crimes unit. The SARA Unit was developed to provide legal guidance and investigative support for all municipal police departments within Essex Country.
The SARA Unit originally handled all cases of sexual abuse within the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office. As the field of sex crime investigation became more specialized in the early 1980′s, a separate Child Abuse Unit was developed. The Child Abuse unit handles all cases of abuse involving children under the age of 13. By 2001, after the opening of the County’s new Wynona M. Lipman Child Advocacy Center, all cases involving juvenile victims of abuse (under the age of 18) were solely handled by the Child Abuse Unit.
Today, the SARA Unit exclusively handles cases involving adult victims of sex crime. Unit staff consists of experienced Assistant Prosecutors, Detectives, and clerical support employees. The SARA Unit cooperates closely with the on-site registered nursing staff who manage the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program.
Members of the legal and investigative staff are available 24 hours a day to assist local law enforcement in their investigations. The SARA Unit has also adopted a vertical prosecution approach, whereby prosecutors assigned to a case will handle it from its inception through trial. This allows for a more victim-centered approach. A victim will be given the stability of having to deal with a single investigative and prosecution team, thereby sparing the victim the need to endlessly repeat the details of the sexually abusive act to countless people. This approach protects the victim from the need to continually relive the abusive act.
The SARA Unit was involved in many cutting-edge legal issues, including the use of DNA evidence and Internet related crimes. With the establishment of a national DNA Data bank by the FBI, Essex County was the first county prosecutor’s office in the State of New Jersey to have a positive match on a previously unidentified offender, as well as the first prosecutor’s office in the state to have a positive match on multiple cases committed by a serial sex offender.
In 2014, the SARA Unit received 205 referrals for investigation, and had 96 cases carried over from 2013. Of a total of 301 cases investigated in 2014, 38 resulted in adult criminal charges.
Notable Cases in 2014:
State v. Hakim Jones – During the evening of March 5, 2013, a masked man brandishing a handgun approached a 17-year old female walking on Pomona Avenue in Newark. The suspect forced the victim to the side of a house. The victim was robbed and sexually assaulted before the suspect fled. During the evening of March 14, 2013, two female teenagers were walking along South 17th Street in Newark. A masked man brandishing a handgun forced them into Westside Park. Both victims were robbed and sexually assaulted before the suspect fled. During the evening of March 10, 2013, a 28-year-old female was approached by a masked man as she was entering her vehicle in Newark. At gunpoint, the suspect forced the victim to drive to an isolated area. The victim was then sexually assaulted and robbed. Following an investigation, the defendant was identified and charged with a series of first-degree Aggravated Sexual Assault and first-degree Robbery offenses. The defendant plead guilty in November 2014 to three counts of first-degree degree Kidnapping and six counts of Aggravated Sexual Assault in exchange for a recommendation of 25 years in New Jersey State Prison.
State in the interest of F.C. (Juvenile Defendant) – On May 4, 2014, the defendant F.C. and victim K.P., an escort, corresponded online and arranged to meet in Newark. Upon arriving at the arranged location, the victim was approached by the defendant who displayed a badge which was hanging on a chain around his neck. The defendant then stated he was an undercover police officer. The defendant had a gun displayed on his waist. The defendant then took the victim around the corner, handcuffed her and groped her breasts and buttocks. Then the defendant took the victim to Branch Brook Park and sexually assaulted the victim orally and vaginally. When the sexual assault was over, the defendant then took the victim’s phone and left the park. The victim flagged down a vehicle for assistance, and eventually returned home. The victim later reported the incident to the police and went to Newark Beth Israel Hospital where a sexual assault examination was conducted. The defendant was subsequently identified via phone records and a photo array. A search warrant was obtained for the defendant’s residence, where police recovered a black bb handgun, a pair of handcuffs and a gold police badge.
The defendant was charged with first-degree Kidnapping, first-degree Aggravated Sexual Assault, third-degree Aggravated Criminal Sexual Contact, second-degree Unlawful Possession of a Handgun, second-degree Possession of a Weapon for an Unlawful Purpose, first-degree Robbery, and fourth-degree Impersonating a Law Enforcement Officer. In July 2014, the defendant plead guilty to Kidnapping, Aggravated Sexual Assault, Unlawful Possession of a Weapon and Robbery in Juvenile Court in exchange for a recommendation of 8 years in Jamesburg Training School for Boys, as well as Megan’s Law registration and Parole Supervision for Life.
The Child Abuse Unit (CAU) was established by the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office (ECPO) in 1983 in recognition of an urgent need to protect abused children and prosecute those who harm them. The Prosecutor’s Office placed specialized law enforcement personnel with the desire, training and experience to service abused children. Unlike most child abuse units throughout the country, the ECPO Child Abuse Unit services all children up to the age of 18. The CAU is also staffed by various SVU Assistant Prosecutors, Detectives and support staff. The CAU maintains a twenty-four hour on-call service for all county municipal Detectives and N.J. Division of Children and Families caseworkers (Division of Child Protection and Permanency).
The mission of the unit is to support an environment of lawful behavior, safety, security and justice for all of the people of Essex County. We recognize that the children of Essex County are our greatest resource and we are committed to their protection. To accomplish this mission, the CAU uses the most advanced methods to successfully identify, apprehend and prosecute those who commit crimes against children. When crimes against children occur, the CAU diligently pursues the arrest, indictment and conviction of those responsible. At the same time, all Constitutional safeguards of the accused are respected.
By their very nature, child abuse investigations and prosecutions are extremely difficult. The CAU uses a multi disciplinary team approach to investigations and victim services. In conjunction with the Wynona’s House non-profit organization and the State Division of Children and Families, the CAU is an integral part of the Winona M. Lipman Child Advocacy Center located in Newark. The Winona M. Lipman Center may be the only child advocacy center in the country to have a full-time prosecutor’s office unit, child protective service caseworkers, juvenile trauma therapists, forensic pediatricians and multi-disciplinary coordinators all under one roof.
The philosophy of the Center is the “Child Comes First” and a multi-disciplinary approach is used to protect child victims from unnecessary trauma during the investigative stages of a case. Under this approach, a single interview of all victims of sexual abuse under the age of 12 years old is conducted by a highly skilled primary interviewer while professionals from other agencies view the recorded interview. The technique prevents multiple interviews by law enforcement officials and reduces trauma suffered by the victim. In addition, victim family members receive a wide range of services. (Click here to see more about what the Wynona Lipman Child Advocacy Center means for children who have become victims of abuse)
Starting in December 2000, the Child Abuse Unit began videotaping the interviews of children under the age of 13 who have been sexually abused. A primary interviewer from law enforcement conducts the interviews while members from N.J. DCF and the Child Advocacy Center manager (Wynona’s House) sit in a monitoring room nearby.
Cases are investigated either solely by the CAU or through joint investigations with municipal Detectives or staff of N.J. DCF. The Assistant Prosecutors assigned to the Unit handle a significant number of cases from the inception of the investigation to the case’s ultimate disposition. The Unit is responsible for investigating or co-investigating cases involving children under the age of 18 who were victims of crimes which include:
Depending upon the results of the initial interview with the child, he or she may require a medical examination and assessment by the Lipman Center’s medical staff. The Lipman Center collaborates with Essex County Regional Diagnostic and Treatment Center for Child Abuse and Neglect at Children’s Hospital of New Jersey (RDC), whose physicians have extensive training in both pediatrics and issues related to child abuse. Through the compilation of the child’s medical history and the examination, evidence may be obtained and stored for the potential prosecution of the alleged perpetrator. The physicians also provide basic, preventative healthcare services to ensure the complete recovery of victims of child abuse.
The Lipman Center has implemented a twenty-four hour, seven-day a week on-call schedule for its investigative staff, thereby ensuring that all child abuse victims will be treated with the best care and concern, regardless of when they are victimized or choose to disclose.
In 2014, the Child Abuse Unit received 761 referrals for investigation, and had 221 cases carried over from 2013. Of the 982 cases investigated in 2014, 170 resulted in adult criminal charges and 16 juvenile charges.
Notable Cases for 2014:
State v. Korynn V. Hunt – On October 13, 2014, a friend of the victim called police to report that the victim was being sexually assaulted by the defendant at his residence. Newark Police responded and spoke to the victim, who indicated that the defendant had made her perform oral sex and had attempted to penetrate her vaginally. Prior to this occurring, the victim texted a friend whom she had told about the defendant doing this in the past and stated that the defendant was about to rape her. The victim also set up her tablet to record a portion of the sexual acts performed by the defendant on that date. The tablet was turned over to law enforcement voluntarily by the victim. The victim gave a formal statement with regard to the events on October 13, and also detailed a similar incident on October 4. She further stated there had been numerous incidents of this nature since she was 9 years old. Upon review of the victim’s initial statement as well as the video, multiple counts of first-degree Aggravated Sexual Assault and second-degree Endangering the Welfare of a Child were authorized with regard to the October 4 and 13 incidents.
State v. Nicole DuFault – On September 15, 2014, a student reported to a teacher at Columbia High School that another teacher, Nicole Dufault, had allegedly had sex with two 15-year-old male students. Additionally, it was alleged that Dufault also had sexually inappropriate contact with other students. Statements were taken from five students who stated that they had engaged in oral and/or vaginal sex with the defendant on various dates between July 2013 and August 2014. It was also discovered that a video existed depicting defendant engaging in fellatio with one of the students. The video was filmed by another student, who also engaged in fellatio with the defendant after the video was taken. A copy of the video was obtained by law enforcement. A sworn statement was subsequently obtained from a sixth male victim, disclosing that the defendant had engaged in sexual acts with him as well. The defendant was indicted for multiple counts of Aggravated Sexual Assault and Endangering the Welfare of a Child against the six male victims. This case is currently pending in Superior Court.
Within the past 5 years, the ECPO Special Victims Unit has extended its focus to include bias crimes involving race, religion or sexual orientation;elder abuse cases; and human trafficking, a growing crisis within the region.
A notable human trafficking case was State v. Charles Torres et al. In August 2013, an investigation revealed that a 15-year-old girl was forced into prostitution and sold for sex on backpage.com. The investigation found the defendant as the leader of the prostitution ring. The defendant and three co-defendants were charged with an assortment of crimes including first-degree Human Trafficking, first-degree Promoting Prostitution, Money Laundering and Endangering the Welfare of a Child. On May 1, 2014, the lead defendant pled guilty to first-degree Human Trafficking and other charges for a minimum State Prison sentence of 20 years with 20 years of parole ineligibility. The defendant was sentenced on Sept. 19, 2014.
Regarding elder abuse, in 2014 the Elder Abuse Team investigated nine cases involving alleged physical abuse, sexual abuse and fraud. Two defendants were charged and pled guilty to felony charges.
Also, in 2014, the Bias Crimes Unit opened 22 cases.