ACTING ESSEX COUNTY PROSECUTOR THEODORE N. STEPHENS II AND THE ESSEX COUNTY PROSECUTORS OFFICE CELEBRATE THE RETURN OF IN PERSON SCHOOL: School is back. For the first time in over a year, in-person school is back in Essex County and throughout the nation. As most parents and educators already know, it is difficult to overstate the importance of school to the academic and social growth of children. The loss of social networks and opportunities to gather with peers for sports, education and recreation has been devastating for many young people. School closures have also made it difficult for some parents to meet their work and parenting responsibilities.
From a law enforcement standpoint, schools are critically important. In addition to keeping kids engaged in academic pursuits, schools have often been on the frontline when it comes to protecting children. Teachers and school nurses are often the first to notice signs of abuse and neglect. The school setting is also the place where children can find allies if they are the victims of criminal conduct, suffering from depression or other mental health problems that could result in coming in contact in the criminal justice system.
In Essex County, during the pandemic, there has been an increase in absenteeism coupled with an increase in crime. With so many children having additional unsupervised and unstructured time, the number of interactions with police were up about 25 percent. Many of those events did not warrant charges. But we have seen a 10 to 15 percent increase in juveniles being charged. The most frequent charge was receiving stolen property, which was often associated with youth joyriding and auto theft. There was also a spike in burglaries involving both cars and other structures. Parole violations were also up which typically was the result of a child being charged with a new offense while still under court supervision.
As children return to school, hopefully, some of this behavior will stop. We wish to remind the community that the Essex County Prosecutor is committed to being a part of the activities and initiatives that keep kids out of the criminal justice system and protect children from being victimized. This year, as we did in prior years, we ran our Summer Interns Program with great success; some was virtual, and some was in person. Going forward, internships are available for high school, college, and law school students as they were throughout the pandemic. We will continue to make members of our staff available to talk about careers in law enforcement, cybercrime, gang violence, drug abuse, crime scene investigations and a whole range of issues. We will also continue to hold our annual symposium for middle school students.
Fighting crime begins with protecting and educating young people. As we begin a new school year, our resolve has never been stronger than it is today when it comes to keeping young people on a path that will result in their lifelong success.
ACTING ESSEX COUNTY PROSECUTOR THEODORE N. STEPHENS II JOINS WITH THE COUNTY PROSECUTORS ASSOCIATION OF NEW JERSEY IN REFLECTING ON THE ONE YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF THE MURDER OF GEORGE FLOYD — STATEMENT FROM THE COUNTY PROSECUTORS ASSOCIATION OF N.J.: As we solemnly mark this one-year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd on May 25, we send our deepest respects and continued prayers to the family and loved ones living with this tragic loss. The past year has been a time of reckoning for our nation marked by calls for justice and for change. We have heard those calls and pledge our ongoing support and work toward criminal justice reform that delivers a stronger, fairer, more just system. While we have seen progress and change over the past year, we know that this is just the beginning, and much more must be done to ensure social justice and equal treatment for everybody by law enforcement.
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
STATEMENT FROM ACTING PROSECUTOR STEPHENS ON CHAUVIN VERDICT: On April 20, 2021, the jury delivered justice not only for the family and loved ones of George Floyd, but for the millions of Americans of color who for decades have experienced a different reality of uneven treatment by law enforcement. What we witnessed in Minneapolis last May was not policing but was murder and an absolute abdication of the values of protecting and serving. With this verdict, our country can begin the long and complex process of healing, which we know will also involve continued dialogue between communities and law enforcement, as well as ongoing police reform, increased transparency, and accountability. We thank the Jury for their service.
OPIOID AWARENESS DAY, AUGUST 31, 2021: The Essex County Prosecutor’s Office Community Justice Program recently completed another High School Summer Intern program, and the participants of 2021 Session 1 came together to create a poster with their views and reflections on the Opioid Crisis, as to mark the coming of Opioid Awareness Day on August 31, 2021. You can view their poster here.
SANCTUARY INTIMATE PARTNER VIOLENCE RESPONSE INITIATIVE: The Essex County Prosecutor’s Office Victim Witness Office hopes to offer future Sanctuary Initiative volunteer training. This training is presented in two formats: BASIC and ADVANCED. The basic course is 80 hours, and the advanced course is 40 hours. Please note that you must complete the basic course or have completed no less than 40 hours of intimate partner violence training to attend the advanced course.
Sanctuary training is a time-intensive but rewarding experience that will prepare you to effectively assist and advocate for victim/survivors of intimate partner assault, sexual assault, child abuse, stalking, trafficking, cyber-crimes, as well as survivors of homicide victims. Class participants include members of local area churches, mosques, synagogues, municipal police departments and their response teams, social service and emergency agencies, fraternal organizations, and other allied organizations located in greater Essex County. Successfully completing of the training program is not only a way to help those in crisis, but is also an opportunity to join a helping community of dynamic people. Volunteers are invited to participate in subsequent training sessions to further develop their advocacy skills. The work is challenging at times, but the rewards are many, including the opportunity to make wonderful friends.
For further information, please consult the following:
We anticipate that future Sanctuary Initiative courses will be announced.
2021 SUMMER YOUTH INTERN PROGRAM: This past summer, the ECPO Community Justice Unit offered a virtual summer internship program, which ran in two sessions. These sessions ran from Monday thru Friday from 9am to 11am. The first session began on July 6 and ended on July 23, 2021. The second session began July 26 and ran through August 13, 2021. The program is generally open to a limited number of high school students who reside in Essex County and who will complete their junior year just before the program starts.
During this interactive three-week internship program, students will be exposed to a comprehensive curriculum that includes: learning about the role and function of the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office; participating in workshops that focus on making positive choices, Internet safety, gang awareness and substance abuse prevention. Throughout the summer internship program, interns will be exposed to various careers in law, law enforcement and government. For more information on eligibility and how students will be selected, please read the explanatory cover letter for the program. We hope to offer a similar program in 2022.
For further information, please contact Mrs. Watson at (973) 621-4317 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note that this program may be subject to change.
ACTING ESSEX COUNTY PROSECUTOR STEPHENS ANNOUNCES ECPO HOMICIDE CASE OUTCOMES FOR 2020: On Thursday, February 4, 2021, Acting Essex County Prosecutor Theodore N. Stephens announced that the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office made arrests in 71 percent of the homicides that occurred in the county in 2020. There were 78 homicides in Essex County in 2020, down by 3 from 2019. Of those cases, arrests were made in 55 cases. That number does not include six homicides from 2018 and 2019 that were solved in 2020
“In the grip of a global pandemic, which forced our Office and law enforcement across the nation to pivot, the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office did an extraordinary job investigating some of the most heinous crimes that occurred in 2020 in our region,’’ said Acting Prosecutor Stephens.
“Policing and prosecuting in a pandemic are obviously challenging. But almost a year later, I believe the men and women of the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, working with our partners in law enforcement and the community at large, have done an extraordinary job of balancing our duty to maintain public safety with being a part of a caring community,” Acting Prosecutor Stephens said.
ECPO COMMUNITY JUSTICE UNIT RECEIVES ‘EXCELLENCE IN POLICING’ AWARD FROM NJ ATTORNEY GENERAL’S OFFICE: The Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, Community Justice Unit, comprised of Gwendolyn Williams, Executive Assistant Prosecutor and Nicole Graves-Watson, Community Justice Coordinator are the recipients of the Attorney General’s Excellence in Policing Award. The Community Justice Unit is dedicated to creating and putting forth programs aimed to provide children and adolescents with positive alternatives and interventional strategies to prevent delinquency. The Community Justice Unit engages the entire Essex County community by serving as a liaison between law enforcement and residents. The Unit promotes awareness about the role and functions of the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office. The Community Justice Unit plans and implements youth conferences and town hall meetings to address residents’ concerns. The Unit also holds a comprehensive summer internship program to introduce high school juniors to careers in law, law enforcement and government.
Gwendolyn Williams, Executive Assistant Prosecutor, has worked at the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office for the past twenty-seven years. Gwendolyn Williams is responsible for the supervision of the following units: Victim Witness Advocacy, Community Justice, Drug Court and Mental Health. In addition; Ms. Williams is responsible for handling human resources issues pertaining to support staff.
Nicole Graves-Watson, Community Justice Coordinator, has worked at the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office for the past thirteen years. Nicole Graves-Watson is responsible for creating and implementing programs aimed to provide children and adolescents with positive alternatives and interventional strategies to prevent delinquency. She plans and administers various conferences and town hall meetings to address substance abuse and other public safety issues.
The Community Justice Unit is honored to be a recipient of the Attorney General’s 21 County, 21st Century Community Policing Program Award on December 4, 2020. The Unit is appreciative of the recognition and look forward to continuing to serve Essex County residents.
ACTING ESSEX COUNTY PROSECUTOR STEPHENS CONTRIBUTES OP-ED ARTICLE TO STAR LEDGER NEWSPAPER AND NJ.COM: On Monday, June 29, 2020, Acting Essex County Prosecutor Theodore N. Stephens contributed an Op-Ed article to the Star Ledger newspaper. This article is also available on the NJ.COM web site. The article is titled “Grand juries work, even for Black and Brown communities”. In this piece, Prosecutor Stephens discusses the role and the workings of the Grand Jury within the criminal justice prosecution system, and identifies potential pitfalls that might expose the process to systemic racial bias against people of color. He then explains the tools available to prosecutors to avoid such bias, and emphasizes the work that the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office has done to maintain the integrity of the grant jury process within our County.
ECPO HOSTS VIRTUAL TOWN HALL MEETING FOR EAST ORANGE RESIDENTS: The Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, Community Justice Unit, held a series of virtual town hall meetings on the topic of opioid abuse, prevention and treatment under Operation Helping Hand. These meetings were held in conjunction with the Essex County Division of Community Health Services and Family Connections ADAPT Coalition (Alcohol and Prevention Team of Essex County). Our first virtual Operation Helping Hand town hall meeting focused on preventing opioid misuse/abuse for adults with chronic pain and student athletes in the City of East Orange. Representatives from East Orange Public Schools and the East Orange Police Department have collaborated with us to bring this message to East Orange residents.
Operation Helping Hand is an initiative of the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office in conjunction with the various County Prosecutors’ Offices, including the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office. Operation Helping Hand partners law enforcement and recovery specialists to make resources available to individuals who have had law enforcement encounters who are suffering from substance use issues. It is partly supported by a federal grant.
ACTING ESSEX COUNTY PROSECUTOR STEPHENS HOSTS INTERFAITH VIRTUAL TOWN HALL MEETING On Tuesday, June 30 2020 from 12:30 PM to 1:30 PM, Acting Essex County Prosecutor Theodore N. Stephens hosted a Virtual Town Hall Meeting via Zoom. This meeting is held in conjunction with the Interfaith Clergy Taskforce of Essex County. The theme of this meeting is “E.C.P.O. Operations in the COVID-19 and Racially Aware Environment”. The guest speaker at this event was Maya Lordo, Essex County Health Officer.
E.C.P.O. EMPLOYEES PARTICIPATE IN COUNTY FOOD DISTRIBUTION EVENT On Thursday, June 25 2020 at 10 AM, the County of Essex held an emergency food distribution event at the James Caldwell High School in West Caldwell, NJ. With the support of Acting Prosecutor Theodore N. Stephens, several employees of the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office volunteered to assist at this event. County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. says that this event and future similar events will help address the growing food insecurity issues of Essex County residents who are out of work and have limited or no income. The Coronavirus pandemic has caused an increase in unemployment or reduced employment in recent months, and the County of Essex and the Board of the Chosen Freeholders wish to help address the tremendous needs that have been created because of this. Distribution was made to Essex residents who access the school campus in an automobile. More details are available on the attached sheet.
ACTING PROSECUTOR STEPHENS RECEIVES AWARDS: On Monday, February 24, 2020, Acting Essex County Prosecutor Theodore N. Stephens II recently received an award from Assemblywoman Britnee Timberlake and the members of the New Jersey General Assembly Black Caucus in Trenton, NJ. The presentation took place during the General Assembly voting session. The ceremony was part of the General Assembly’s annual celebration of African American History Month.
Acting Prosecutor Stephens was also honored by Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo with this year’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Leadership Award for his “positive community leadership and years of exem-plary public service.” The award was given during the Essex County 17th Annual African American History Month Celebration. Dr. Marion A. Bolden, Chair of the Essex County College Board of Trustees, was also given the Coretta Scott King Leadership Award at the same event. The award ceremony was held on February 19, 2020 at the Essex County Hall of Records
SUMMER 2021 OPERATION HELPING HAND INITIATIVE:During the summer of 2019 and 2020, ECPO participated in a program sponsored by the State of New Jersey with the support of the US Dept. of Health and Human Services to provide users of street opioids such as heroin the opportunity to go through a program of dependency treatment in lieu of prosecution following arrest. This program is called “Operation Helping Hand”. Under this program, ECPO coordinated two “street sweeps” in Orange and Irvington whereby parties arrested for purchase and possession of illegal drugs were given this treatment option. This was a small scale “pilot” program that is being expanded in 2021 with the continuing support of the State of New Jersey Attorney General’s Office. ECPO has produced a video featuring Acting Prosecutor Theodore N. Stephens II, which provides the public with an overview of the Helping Hand initiative. This video is available to view on our website.
ASSISTANT PROSECUTOR JUSTIN EDWAB RECEIVES ESSEX COUNTY BAR ASSOCIATION ACHIEVEMENT AWARD: The Essex County Bar Association has selected Assistant Prosecutor Justin Edwab for his outstanding work as a Prosecutor. Every year, the Essex County Bar Association gives out Achievement Awards recognizing individuals and entities who have “demonstrated a commitment to promoting integrity, professionalism, zealous advocacy, and the fair administration of justice in the Essex County legal community and the legal profession generally.”
Edwab was to be recognized as an outstanding criminal trial attorney at a dinner previously scheduled for April 27, 2020 but cancelled due to the cornoavirus pandemic. A seasoned prosecutor and supervisor of ECPO’s trial teams, AP Edwab has an extraordinary track record trying cases. He methodically and carefully builds his cases with exactly attention to detail. Last year alone he tried two significant homicides.
In February 2019, AP Edwab successfully prosecuted Jeffrey Holland, 30, of East Orange for atriple homicide. Holland was found guilty and sentenced to 190 years in prison for the murders of Tiniquah Rouse, 21, Ashley Jones, 23, and Jarrell Marshall, 28. The victims, all residents of Newark, were killed over the course of two days in January 2016. In March 2019, AP Edwab successfully prosecuted Zaki Jones, 36, of Newark for the murder of Naji Everett, 26, of Orange. Jones was sentenced to life in prison for that Dec. 17, 2015 fatal West Orange shooting.
Among those recognized in the past in this category are: Ray Brown, Justin Walder, Michael Critchley, Ted Wells, Peter Harvey, Superior Court Judge Siobhan Teare, Tim Donohue, Patrick Toscano, and several ECPO or former ECPO Assistant Prosecutors including Former Acting Essex County Prosecutor Robert Laurino, First Assistant Prosecutor Romesh C. Sukhdeo, Eileen O’Connor, Paul Bradley, Rachel Gran, and Thomas McTigue.
THEODORE N. STEPHENS II APPOINTED ACTING ESSEX COUNTY PROSECUTOR: On Tuesday September 4, 2018, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy appointed Theodore Stephens II to serve as the Acting Essex County Prosecutor. Acting Prosecutor Stephens will be formally nominated by the Governor to serve as Essex County Prosecutor, subject to confirmation by the state Senate.
“Today, I am proud to appoint Ted Stephens to serve as Acting Essex County Prosecutor,” said Governor Phil Murphy. “Ted has dedicated his life to public service, and his years of experience and knowledge will allow him to serve as a strong leader in this role. I look forward to working with Ted as he fulfills the mission of seeking justice for the people of New Jersey.”
“I am deeply honored to be given this opportunity to serve the people of Essex County as Prosecutor and am grateful to Governor Murphy for his confidence in appointing me to this critical role,” Stephens said. “I look forward to working with law enforcement and the community to ensure that the vital mission of promoting safety and justice in Essex County will be performed in accordance with the highest standards of integrity, excellence, and service.”
Acting Prosecutor Stephens had been sworn in as the Essex County Surrogate in 2012, where he presided over the Essex County Court. Prior to becoming Essex County Surrogate, he began his legal career as the Eastern Region Attorney for Unisys Corporation, followed by the role of Corporation Counsel for the City of East Orange.
The Acting Prosecutor began his judicial career in 1994 when he was appointed a judge of the East Orange Municipal Court. In 2004, he was then appointed to the bench of the City of Orange Township Municipal Court.
“Every day each of the twenty-one prosecutors appointed to serve as their individual county’s highest law enforcement officer is tasked with investigating crimes, prosecuting difficult and varied cases, and working with local police departments,” said New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal. “I would like to thank Acting Essex County Prosecutor Bob Laurino for his tireless service to the citizens of Essex County and I look forward to working with Ted Stephens as he takes on this critical role. Together we will work to strengthen the relationships between the police and the communities they serve, to reduce violent crime, and to fight the opioid crisis.”
2019 E.C.P.O ANNUAL REPORT AVAILABLE: The 2018 ECPO Annual Report can be downloaded and viewed in PDF format, from this page. The 2020 Report is expected later in 2021.
FORMER ACTING ESSEX COUNTY PROSECUTOR LAURINO APPOINTED TO STATE TASK FORCE ON SEXUAL ABUSE BY CLERGY: On Thursday September 6, 2018, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced the formation of a task force to investigate allegations of sexual abuse by members of the clergy within the Catholic dioceses of New Jersey, as well as any efforts to cover up such abuse. The Attorney General appointed former Acting Essex County Prosecutor Robert D. Laurino to head the task force. An experienced sex crimes prosecutor, Laurino will oversee a team of detectives and prosecutors from across the state’s County Prosecutor’s Offices and the NJ Division of Criminal Justice (DCJ), and will report directly to DCJ Director Veronica Allende. Attorney General Grewal has authorized the task force to present evidence to a state grand jury, including through the use of subpoenas to compel testimony and the production of documents, in addition to other investigative tools.
To help identify potential victims, Attorney General Grewal also has established a new dedicated hotline to report allegations of sexual abuse by members of the clergy. The hotline will be staffed by trained professionals and operate on a 24/7 basis. The toll-free number is 855-363-6548.
“I am extremely honored that the Attorney General would ask me to take on such an extraordinarily important investigation,” said Laurino. “Having been a special victims prosecutor for most of my professional career, I am prepared to do everything possible to give a voice to those who were abused. I hope that we will finally be able to give these individuals some degree of closure in their lives.”
Former Acting Prosecutor Laurino had been a member of the Essex County Prosecutors Office since 1980. He served as Acting Prosecutor from June 2017 until September 2018, and previously served as Acting Prosecutor from January 2010 to February 2011. Laurino has completed over 100 jury trials and has handled thousands of cases involving sexual violence. Laurino has served as a faculty member for the National District Attorneys Association, the New Jersey Attorney General’s Advocacy Institute, the New York Prosecutors Training Institute, and AEquitas: The Prosecutors’ Resource on Violence Against Women, where he has taught trial advocacy courses on matters concerning sexual assault, ethics, and DNA evidence. Laurino has published and continues to lecture nationally on issues involving sexual violence, forensic evidence, attorney ethics, and the abuse of individuals with disabilities.
A cum laude graduate of Villanova University, Laurino received a master’s degree from Rutgers University. Laurino graduated from Seton Hall University School of Law, where he was an editor of the law review.
NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO REPORT ON ECPO PROSECUTION OF ABUSERS OF INDIVIDUALS WITH DISABILITIES: National Public Radio is running a series of reports regarding the abuse of individuals with disabilities, and a recent report featured former Acting Prosecutor Laurino and the ECPO Special Victims Unit. This report was heard on the NPR “All Things Considered” show, and a written version of it is now available on the NPR web site. The report highlights the ongoing prosecutorial efforts that ECPO is making in the area of victimization of individuals with disabilities. Acting Prosecutor Laurino extends his congratulations to the Special Victims Unit, and in particular to SVU DCAP Celeste Montesino, AP Kate Lyons-Boswick (who is featured in the NPR report and the web site article along with Prosecutor Laurino), and Captain Steve Roberts for the exceptional work that they continue to do.
CRIMINAL JUSTICE BAIL REFORM: On January 1, 2017, the New Jersey Bail Reform/Speedy Trial law went into effect. As a result, New Jersey shifted from a system that relied primarily on setting monetary bail to a more objective risk-based system that is fairer towards those accused of crimes who, prior to this mandate, may not have been able to meet their bail obligation. This new law represents one of the most comprehensive changes to our criminal justice system in many years. The Essex County Prosecutor’s Office has spent many hours planning for this initiative and invested in several new information systems to facilitate the changes required by this initiative. We have also allocated additional staff and staffing hours to accommodate the increased workload needed to accommodate these changes.
V.I.N.E. Victim Notification Telephone Service Started: The State of New Jersey provides a toll-free telephone number through which victims can gain information about the current status and location of their offenders: 1-877-VINE-4-NJ (1-877-846-3465). Registration is necessary. Please consult the V.I.N.E. Web Site for more information.
VICTIM – WITNESS WEB SITE: Acting Essex County Prosecutor Theodore N. Stephens wishes to remind County residents that the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office has an updated and expanded website focusing on the needs of crime victims. This site provides updated resource information for Essex County victims and witnesses, and presents it in an understandable, easy to read format based on color coding.
“Serving the needs of crime victims in this high-tech, fast-moving environment is a challenge. Sometimes victims need answers after regular work hours. The expanded ECPO Victim-Witness Services website provides new forums to help victims and their surviving family members. It allows them to get answers when they cannot pick up a phone and reach someone, ’’ said Acting Prosecutor Stephens.
This Office’s Victim Witness web site is accessible from this site (the main ECPO web site) by clicking on the “Victim-Witness Services” link in the blue area at left. The new Victim Witness site is also available via its own internet domain name, i.e. www.essexnjvictimwitness.org