YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli will be called to the witness stand to testify against two Bergen County Police Department officers accused of moving shell casings at the end of the car chase and then lying under oath to cover up a shooting, the lead prosecutor in the case told jurors in Hackensack today.
Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Wayne Mello, during his opening argument in the trial this morning, called the actions of officers Saheed Baksh ( above, right ) and Jeffrey Roberts ( left ) “a betrayal of the badge we all have a right to trust.”
“The badge of a police officer is a symbol as much as the flag … a symbol of trust [and] commitment to truth and honesty,” Mello told jurors.
He then told jurors expect details of a “a chase second to none.”
“It will amaze you,” Mello said, promising to show jurors police cruiser dashboard videos of the pursuit from Paramus to Bogota.
Baksh’s lawyer, Louis Diluzio, portrayed the August 2010 scene as a mess of 20-plus officers from several jurisdictions — including local, county, and New Jersey State Police, plus the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office.
Mass confusion plus a short time frame — and not an attempt to deceive — led to assumptions and delay in reporting an officer-involved shooting.
Diluzio also said prosecutors have no evidence to prove Baksh removed the shell casings from the crime scene.
He also disagreed with Mello’s contention that Baksh was ordered to leave his car at the “shooting scene” to await a tow and take another officer’s car to the hospital with the two suspects he’d chased after they complained of injuries.
No one ever gave that order, the attorney said.
Baksh traveled from the “apprehension scene” on the other side of the railroad tracks back to his car, which he drove back to the “barn” — the county police garage in Hackensack, he said.
It wasn’t until about two hours later that Roberts asked Baksh if he told anyone he discharged his weapon, Diluzio said.
Baksh said he hadn’t, so Roberts said he would, he said.
New Jersey Attorney General guidelines require county prosecutor’s offices to review all police shootings to determine whether they are justified.
According to Mello, the two-hour gap compromised the scene — and, as a result, the investigation.
Roberts’ attorney, Charles Sciarra, likened Mello to a bricklayer building a wall to convince jurors that the defendants are guilty.
“But I think when he’s finished, you’ll find quite a few bricks are missing and the wall won’t stand,” Sciarra said.
Among what’s missing, he alleged, are a motive and a crime that had to be covered up in the first place.
Sciarra also accused Molinelli’s office of being “up to something” by not delivering evidence that he needed to prepare his case until a few weeks ago.
The two officers face a total of six charges, including second-degree conspiracy to commit official misconduct.
Grand jurors in August 2012 indicted both after prosecutors presented videotape from various patrol car dashboard cameras and transcripts of interviews with several officers following the chase.
No one was hit, but prosecutors said Baksch pocketed the shell casings after firing the shots, while Roberts did nothing to stop him.
The officers have been free on $10,000 bail each and remain suspended without pay.
Both insist that Molinelli ( above, inset ) pursued the charges against them as part of a politically motivated “witch hunt” designed to “result in the dissolution of the Bergen County Police Department.”
Superior Court Judge Patrick J. Roma, who is presiding over the trial, last fall refused their request to either dismiss the case or, failing that, transfer it to the state Attorney General’s Office.
Molinelli, in an October 2013 filing to Roma, wrote that Baksh and Roberts committed criminal misconduct that “disgraces the badge and good name of all law enforcement officers.”
The trial continues tomorrow morning with testimony from BCPD K-9 Officer Les Lorenc, whno found the shell casings.
Prosecutors say Lorenc and Englewood Officer John Peterson examined the shell casings and put them back.
When crime scene investigators arrived, they said, the casings were gone.
The incident began the afternoon of Aug. 12, 2010, when a Forest Avenue resident returned home and found a black SUV with a man inside parked in her driveway. Suddenly, a second man emerged from her house and got into the SUV, which drove away. READ MORE ….
STORY / PHOTOS: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter
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