Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino and Acting U.S. Attorney William Fitzpatrick announced today that law enforcement took almost 5,000 deadly firearms off New Jersey streets last Friday and Saturday through a strong turnout for a two-day gun buyback held in Camden, Trenton and Newark.
Speaking at a press conference in the Newark Police Department’s ComStat facility, where they were joined by local government officials, members of law enforcement, clergy and community leaders, Porrino and Fitzpatrick called the buyback effort a major success. They noted that New Jersey residents turned in a total of 4,775 guns for cash. Among the weapons collected at all three locations were a total of 1,973 handguns, 1,142 shotguns, and 1,025 rifles. The buybacks also yielded a total of 129 assault weapons which received the highest payout of $200.00 each during buybacks held at Antioch Baptist Church in Camden, the Friendship Baptist Church in Trenton and the Greater Abyssinian Baptist Church in Newark.
More guns were collected in this single two-day gun buyback event than were ever collected across the state in a single year through law enforcement arrests and seizures. The highest number of guns ever seized by law enforcement in one year in New Jersey is 4,079 in the year 2014.
The Attorney General and Acting U.S. Attorney described last weekend’s buybacks — and the nearly 5,000 unwanted guns removed from New Jersey communities – as a shining example of what can be accomplished when law enforcement agencies work in partnership with the communities they police.
“This was a collaborative effort in every respect, and it demonstrates once again that we are exponentially more effective when we work together,” said Porrino. “Through this initiative, thousands of unwanted firearms have been taken off the streets of our state and will soon be destroyed. That’s a step forward in our continuing effort to curb gun violence. Again … a gun that has been melted down can never be used to kill somebody, it can never be used to rob or threaten someone, and it can never end up, tragically, as the instrument of a curious child’s accidental death.”
“Fewer guns on the street means less violent crime and accidental deaths,” Acting U.S. Attorney Fitzpatrick said. “With an impressive total of over 4,700 unwanted guns removed from our communities in Newark, Trenton, and Camden, I have no doubt that the Attorney General’s buy-back campaign will save lives. This effort, along with our coordinated prosecution of firearms offenses – including 19 cases that were recently adopted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for prosecution under federal statutes – demonstrate our shared commitment to use every strategy, investigative technique, and resource to protect the people we serve.”
Porrino and Fitzpatrick described the three buybacks as a valuable adjunct to a broader law enforcement approach to quelling gun violence, which includes New Jersey’s tough “no-bail” stance on gun crimes, and a working partnership between state and federal law enforcement focused on achieving the most effective possible prosecutions of gun offenders.
To maximize the impact of these efforts, the Acting U.S. Attorney and the Attorney General resolved earlier this year to make use of the stricter penalties available for many gun crimes under federal law through the Triggerlock program, in which appropriate cases are referred by state and local authorities and adopted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for federal prosecution.
Since May, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has adopted 19 cases for prosecution under Triggerlock. Among those cases, for example, is Darnell Hagan, a Newark resident arrested for allegedly violating his parole related to an aggravated assault conviction by associating with members of the Grape Street Crips street gang. A search of his home by the State Parole Board uncovered a .40-caliber handgun and heroin. He now faces a federal charge of possession of a weapon by a prohibited person (i.e., a felon), which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years without parole – compared to five years without parole if he faced the comparable state charge. Moreover, he faces a federal charge of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years, which must be served consecutive to any sentence he receives on the charge of possession of heroin with intent to distribute. The heroin charge carries five to 40 years in prison. All of those potential sentences are without parole, because parole does not exist in the federal system.
A second Newark man, West Rodriguez, faces the same federal charges as Hagan. He was arrested after his car was stopped for having illegally tinted windows. Police found a loaded .40-caliber handgun and heroin during searches of his car and an apartment. The Triggerlock cases charged by the U.S. Attorney’s Office since May also include Alyde Corprew, Shakey Hoover and Andrew Hinton. Each faces up to 10 years in federal prison without parole on a charge of possession of a firearm by a prohibited person. Corprew was arrested in a Newark pawn shop in possession of an illegal handgun and a quantity of heroin. Hoover allegedly pointed a gun at several people. Newark Police arrested Hoover and recovered two guns, including a sawed off shotgun. Hinton allegedly struggled with officers who arrested him after a drug transaction in Newark. Hinton allegedly had a handgun and marijuana in his possession.
The most serious gun offenses under federal law carry potential penalties ranging from 15 years without parole to life in prison.
“In addition to removing guns from the street, our double-barreled approach involves aggressive efforts to target the most dangerous gun offenders,” said Attorney General Porrino. “Thanks to Acting U.S. Attorney Fitzpatrick, we’re not only taking these gun-toting criminals out of our communities, we’re keeping them out by subjecting them, where appropriate, to the longest potential prison terms.”
Porrino also highlighted how prosecutors are making use of changes in the State’s bail system – including recent changes championed by the Attorney General’s Office and law enforcement officials around the state – to keep those accused of gun crimes, as well as certain repeat offenders – off the streets until trial. In May of this year, the state Supreme Court approved those changes to the overhauled bail system whereby defendants charged with a range of gun and weapons offenses now face a presumption of pre-trial detention – although a judge still has the final say.
The following are examples of defendants ordered detained since May. Prior to the recent changes, they would likely have been subject to a presumption of release.
•Joshua Fields was arrested in Trenton for alleged possession of a semi-automatic handgun after police responded to a report of a disturbance at a bar involving handguns.
•Cassandra Montanez was arrested in Jersey City after she allegedly pointed a semi-automatic handgun at two people and then discharged it into the air.
•Azariah Washington, who had a prior conviction for robbery, was stopped for a motor vehicle violation in Deerfield, Cumberland County, and police found a .40-caliber handgun in his vehicle.
•Edgar Cochran allegedly threatened a woman with a gun at a tavern in Linden. Police arrested him at his home and recovered a .22 caliber revolver.
•Shaheed Clark, a previously convicted felon, allegedly had an AK-47 assault rifle, a defaced 9mm handgun, and a .45-caliber handgun in his home in Newark, along with narcotics, when police executed a search warrant.
In four other cases, defendants who were arrested with drugs and guns in their vehicles were ordered detained without bail pending trial.
As part of the initiative to fight gun violence, various advertising methods will be used to drive home the warning that certain offenders can expect to face pre-trial detention and the harshest possible prison sentences if they persist in endangering communities with gun violence.
“Our new advertising campaign will target those who commit gun offenses with a message of ‘No Bail. Go Directly to Jail,’” said Attorney General Porrino. “We’re making good on that promise by securing pre-trial detention without bail in case after case involving individuals who choose to illegally carry and wield guns.”
The Attorney General also pointed to continuation of the state’s intensified, targeted anti-violence enforcement efforts in urban centers, and the excellent firearms forensic work being done at the State Police Tech Center in Hamilton as other examples of the broader effort to combat gun violence.
And he reiterated the importance — as part of the multi-pronged effort to reduce gun violence and save lives — of the three, same-day buybacks held in Camden, Trenton and Newark.
The buybacks were held last Friday and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. New Jersey residents were invited to turn in up to three firearms of any type “no questions asked,” and could earn a maximum of $600 by doing so. Under standardized pricing set for the buybacks, gun owners were paid $100 for turning in a rifle or shotgun, $120 for a handgun or revolver, and $200 for an assault weapon.
The buybacks cost New Jersey taxpayers nothing, as they were paid for with state criminal forfeiture funds — monies seized by law enforcement from gun criminals, violent street gangs, drug-dealing networks and other offenders. Overall, the State expended $481,620 in forfeiture monies on the buybacks.
During the buybacks, Camden, Newark and Trenton police officers, County Prosecutor’s Office personnel, and New Jersey State Troopers were on hand to provide security, answer residents’ questions, collect and secure firearms, and generally help ensure a smooth-running process at the three locations.
“Our ultimate goal is to have safer streets and fewer people being shot,” said Porrino. “No one is suggesting that buybacks alone can accomplish that, but it certainly makes sense that getting unwanted or unused firearms out of our communities can only help. Another vital part of the equation is charging dangerous gun criminals, detaining them for trial instead of letting them buy their way out of jail, convicting them, and then obtaining the maximum penalty to keep them away from law abiding citizens.”
Results from the buybacks show that New Jersey residents who turned in firearms in Camden traded 2,167 guns for a total of $222,500 in criminal forfeiture dollars. In Trenton, there were 1,735 firearms turned in for a total of $167,560 in forfeiture cash, while the Newark location took in 874 guns and expended $91,560 in forfeiture monies.
Porrino noted that various anecdotes passed along from the buyback sites suggest a broad array of resident motives for turning in guns, but that many involved concern for the safety of children, or fear that a weapon might be stolen from a home and used in a crime. In many cases, the Attorney General added, people went to extraordinary effort to turn in their weapons.
In Camden, for example, a number of senior citizens did not let their difficulty in getting around keep them from participating in the buyback. They had friends or relatives drive them to the site, used their walkers to get inside and, with the help of police officers on duty, were able to turn in their guns.
Several residents in Newark reportedly walked up to the buyback site entrance, handed weapons in bags to police and said they did not want any money; they just wanted to be rid of the guns. Similar vignettes were reported from the Trenton buyback location as well.
“The amount of lethal firepower we’ve removed from our communities through these buybacks is truly compelling, but the gun numbers tell only part of the story,” said Porrino. “From what I observed – and I spent time at all three locations – there was a very positive conversation around each of these buyback events. Communities were working together. Members of the clergy and their parishioners were excited. Politicians left their party affiliation at the door. Residents turning in guns were feeling they’d made a difference. These are outcomes that naturally tend to draw less attention than tables piled high with guns, but they’re still important.”