By Michael Hill
“A corrosive problem in this state,” said New Jersey Attorney General Chris Porrino.
Porrino says it’s a crime that robs and threatens to rob New Jersey and its citizens of justice: intimidation of witnesses and victims.
“It is — with this intimidation — pervasive, particularly in our urban areas and urban centers,” he said.
The AG says it’s a culture of “snitches get stitches,” as in the case of convicted racketeer Damir Lea. Five years ago in Camden, Lea admitted he beat up another prisoner because he thought he was cooperating with investigators to bring down a drug ring.
“It hampers law enforcement and its ability to solve and prosecute violent crimes. It just breeds more violence,” Porrino said.
Porrino says his office has had a series of meetings with community leaders and others across the state about witness tampering.
So today he announced a new anti-intimidation directive. If prosecutors or police suspect a defendant or his associates might intimidate a witness, they must notify each other before any sensitive information and evidence are shared with defense attorneys. Every prosecutor in the state has three months to take an online anti-intimidation course once it’s developed. And prosecutors must take extra measures to protect witness confidentiality and anonymity.
“We are instructing and directing prosecutors, across the state, to be a little bit more creative,” Porrino said.
The state Attorney General’s Office also announced, in conjunction with the State Police, it’s been targeting — since Nov. 1 — some of the most dangerous fugitives in New Jersey and getting them off the street.
More than 150 rounded up so far in an operation that nabbed five more this morning. In November, the operation arrested Jeremy Arrington a day after he was accused of a triple murder.
The AG says he had no hard evidence any of those arrested had engaged in witness intimidation but, “I would be shocked if there weren’t.”
What can the state do in cases of witness intimidation? Under the new bail reform, it can move to have the defendant detained until trial. Porrino says of the 29 suspects arrested after bail reform began Jan. 1, 22 are being detained without bail until trial. Other steps: relocating witnesses, imposing protective orders and mandating monitoring if defendants are released pretrial.
Porrino says victim and witness intimidation drives a vicious cycle.
“With this directive, we are seeking to reverse that cycle by diligently protecting witnesses and ensuring that violent criminals will face stern prosecution,” he said.
And stiff prison sentences.