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Molinelli accuses activist, newspaper of ‘trying to make news, not report it’

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: Prosecutor John L. Molinelli accused The Bergen Record newspaper and an activist protesting the police shooting death of a Garfield escapee of “trying to MAKE news and not REPORT it” by showing up unannounced Friday and refusing to leave a private area of his office.

John L. Molinelli (CLIFFVIEW PILOT photo)

Jennifer A. Borg, the Vice-President/General Counsel for North Jersey Media Group, parent company of The Bergen Record, in turn, released a statement that night saying the prosecutor got his facts wrong.

Richard Rivera and a companion, identified as Miguel Reyes, were arrested, charged with defiant trespass and released.

The media members left without incident.

“They could have stayed all day in the public part of the building but lodged themselves in our private waiting area,” Molinelli told CLIFFVIEW PILOT this afternoon.

He said the group repeatedly was asked to simply wait in the public area. Eventually, sheriff’s officers — who provide security for the building — had no alternative but to arrest Rivera and Reyes.

Molinelli said he had already responded in writing to Rivera, a former West New York police officer, explaining that he couldn’t meet with anyone because a grand jury is currently investigating the shooting death of 19-year-old Malik Williams of Garfield dead after he escaped from police headquarters and barricaded himself inside a resident’s garage, where two officers surprised him.

Rivera sent CLIFFVIEW PILOT a fax transmittal form that he said “demonstrates the fax the prosecutor claimed to have sent me ahead of our meeting was never transmitted…. I only received a copy of the letter when I appeared at his office on [Friday].”

CLIFFVIEW PILOT left a message with a member of North Jersey Media Group’s legal staff at 2:24 p.m. today, as per instructions left on Borg’s voicemail box at the Woodland Park company’s headquarters.

Dan Sforza, identified as an assignment editor at The Record , issued the following email release to the media, including some members of the staff and Molinelli, at 7:12 p.m.:

The Record would like to correct a public statement released earlier today by the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office.

We assigned a photographer and reporter to cover a planned demonstration at the Prosecutor’s Office by advocates for the family of a Garfield man who was killed by police last month. We were observers only, not participants in any way. We were there to report what happened, not to affect the outcome. We will continue to report the story with that same objectivity.

We also were not the only media present. We find it regrettable that the Prosecutor’s Office has chosen to single us out with inaccurate claims.

We request that the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office retract its allegations against our staff.

Jennifer A. Borg, Esq.
General Counsel
North Jersey Media Group, publisher of The Record
1 Garret Mountain Plaza
Woodland Park, NJ 07424

Molinelli, in an official statement right after the Dec. 10 shooting, said Williams wielded tools in each hand when the officers opened the bay door and surprised him.

Protestors and a columnist for The Bergen Record have insisted that authorities provide answers now — despite the fact that laws govern the grand jury process and carry with them sanctions if anyone breaches those restrictions.

Rivera retired on a disability pension after four years as a West New York cop as part of a settlement after he was terminated on charges of writing a swastika on a test booklet.

Rivera contended that the West New York charges, while true, were brought in retaliation for his cooperation with the FBI in a corruption probe. He said that he drew the symbol after learning that it once represented peace in the Hindu culture.

Today’s incident came at the same time as Molinelli was releasing information in the hope of solving the firebombing of a Rutherford rabbi’s house and the discovery of anti-Semitic graffiti, including swastikas, in a few towns.

Molinelli characterized Rivera, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress as an independent against Bob Menendez in 1998, as a “self described public advocate for police affairs and police brutality issues.”

The prosecutor said that Rivera already requested a meeting with him but that he “was advised that during the pendency of our investigation and decision of whether to present this matter to a Grand Jury, it would be inappropriate to meet with any group or person unrelated to this tragic incident in Garfield so as to allow our office to maintain neutrality and in deference to those that might, at some time in the future, be the subject of a Grand Jury investigation.

“Mr. Rivera was advised in writing that our office had no difficulty in meeting with him, but that the meeting would have to take place after the investigation was complete and so as to allow for a more free exchange of information.”

However, Molinelli said, Rivera “appeared unannounced at our Main Office and refused to leave the private waiting room in room 207, after repeated requests for him to leave the area. He was accompanied by photographers and reporters with North Jersey Media of Woodland Park, NJ, who had made pre-arrangements with Mr Rivera to film him and, it is believed, any possible confrontation that Mr. Rivera might create.”

As the prosecutor noted: “The Garfield police shooting is a serious case and requires a very thorough and careful examination. There are substantial scientific tests that are awaiting examination and further information must still be confirmed prior to a Grand Jury decision being made. This has all been communicated to the family members.”

Given a spate of recent crimes and tragic accidents, Molinelli said, “our office faces serious cases to develop and investigate.

“We are disappointed that both Mr Rivera and the Record, knowing of our request not to schedule meetings until after the investigation was complete, to attempt to MAKE news and not REPORT it by arranging for Rivera to refuse to leave the premises….  We would ask that all responsible media respect our request.”

The prosecutor closed his statement by renewing his request that all media publish or broadcast the information on the Rutherford firebombing, in the hopes of catching a suspect.

As CLIFFVIEW PILOT first reported, Williams turned himself in to Garfield police on Dec. 10 in response to a warrant for his arrest on aggravated assault charges in connection with a fight he had with his girlfriend.

While they were processing him, Williams bolted, the prosecutor said.

Several officers chased him north along the railroad tracks near police headquarters, as a Bergen County Police K-9 unit was summoned.

As CLIFFVIEW PILOT first reported exclusively, the police dog tracked Williams directly to a private residential garage on Dahnerts Park Lane.

A Garfield police officer and Bergen County officer found the side door barricaded shut, so they tried the bay door. It opened and the officers confronted Williams, who Molinelli said had armed himself with tools gathered from the garage.

Williams was shot several times and was later pronounced dead at Hackensack University Medical Center.

The 5-foot-10, 150-pound Williams had been arrested three times in two years in Bergen County, once for resisting arrest and eluding and two more times for aggravated assault — including an incident in May last year for which he had to post $25,000 bail, public records show.

The grand jury investigation includes evidence collected by the Bergen County Sheriff’s Department, statements taken by Molinelli’s detective and an autopsy conducted by the Medical Examiner’s Office.

Several protests have been held, with those involved demanding answers. A column by Mike Kelly of The Bergen Record earlier this week insisted the same.

EXCLUSIVE: Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli warned a community activist demanding answers in the shooting death of a Garfield teen in writing that he risked arrest if he came to county offices unannounced and refused to leave — which is what happened earlier today. CLIFFVIEW PILOT has obtained a copy of the warning letter sent by the prosecutor: CLICK HERE

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