Presidential Candidate Blames Killings on Newark Sanctuary Policy
Kareem Fahim, NYT
August 21, 2007
NEWARK, Aug. 20 — Federal officials said on Monday that a second man among the suspects in the schoolyard slayings of three young friends was in the United States illegally, and a conservative presidential candidate flew into town to denounce the city’s leaders as complicit in the murders because they had declared Newark a “sanctuary” for immigrants.
“If the suspects are found guilty, Newark and its political leadership share a degree of responsibility,” Representative Tom Tancredo, Republican of Colorado, said on the steps of the gold-domed City Hall, surrounded by a dozen supporters and slightly more protesters who rallied against him. “I encourage the family of the victims to pursue a lawsuit against the city.”
Mr. Tancredo, whose bid for the Republican nomination is based largely on an aggressive stance against illegal immigration, is among the many conservatives nationwide who seized on the killings after it was reported that one of the suspects, Jose Lachira Carranza, 28, was an illegal immigrant from Peru.
Before the killings, Mr. Carranza had been arrested three times on felony charges but had been released on bail, in part because the authorities never checked his immigration status. Doing so would likely have triggered a federal “detainer” that would have kept Mr. Carranza in custody to await deportation proceedings.
On Monday, the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency placed a similar detainer on Melvin Jovel, 18, who on Sunday was the sixth person to be arrested in the case. Immigration officials said Mr. Jovel, who was from Honduras, also was in the country illegally.
A third man, Rodolfo Godinez, 24, a legal resident who immigrated from Nicaragua, and three teenagers also face murder and robbery charges for the shooting deaths of Iofemi Hightower, 20; Dashon Harvey, 20; and Terrance Aeriel, 18, on Aug. 4 behind the Mount Vernon School. Mr. Aeriel’s sister Natasha, 19, was also shot, but survived.
At a news conference that was held before Mr. Tancredo’s speech, Paula T. Dow, the Essex County prosecutor, whose office was one of several law enforcement agencies that failed to examine Mr. Carranza’s immigration status, shifted the blame to the federal authorities. Officials in Ms. Dow’s office had said their policy was to not notify immigration officials until suspects were convicted, which they believed was the officials’ preference.
Ms. Dow also pointed out that an official from Immigration and Customs Enforcement had been stationed in the county jail since March and that Mr. Carranza had been held there in May.
“They would have an opportunity to perhaps take action,” Ms. Dow said, referring to Mr. Carranza. Concerning Mr. Tancredo’s visit, Ms. Dow said, “I think it’s absolutely abysmal that anyone would challenge and accuse or lay the blame on the Newark Police Department or anyone in law enforcement for the status of Carranza.”
Newark’s mayor, Cory A. Booker, found himself answering questions about Mr. Tancredo at the news conference. He reacted angrily to the visit.
“These folks descend from out of town to protest in front of City Hall at this time; I find that troubling,” he said. “Talking about anyone being complicit in such a heinous crime — I find those words vulgar.”
Mr. Booker; his police director, Garry F. McCarthy; and the police chief, Anthony Campos, flanked by detectives, gave few additional details about the night of the shooting.
For the first time, Mr. Booker acknowledged the “gang overtones” of the case. Several of the suspects boasted, to friends and on Web pages, of an affinity with MS-13, a gang from El Salvador.
In an interview on Monday at their office, Detective Lydell A. James, the lead Newark investigator on the case, and Sgt. Darnell Henry spoke about their work over the last two weeks, during which the six suspects were arrested in three states. They said the investigation was exhausting but had produced results more quickly than anticipated.
“It was smooth,” Sergeant Henry said.
They spoke only generally about the evidence, saying they did not wish to compromise the prosecution.
Ms. Aeriel, despite her serious injuries, was able to begin speaking to investigators almost immediately, and her help was essential in finding the suspects, they said. They also praised security guards, many of them retired police officers, who worked at the Ivy Hill Park Apartments, where all of the suspects were current or former residents. “They knew the six,” Detective James said. “They knew the troublemakers.”
The investigation has taken its toll. Sergeant Henry rifled through bills in his drawer that he had meant to pay weeks ago. Detective James pointed to a couch in an adjoining room, saying he would catch an hour or so of sleep there or in a green chair in his office. The detective said he visited Ms. Aeriel in the hospital every day.
“I love that girl to death,” he said, adding that he was angry that her identity had been released to the public. “This is why witnesses are reluctant to come forward.”
There were fights between the detectives — soon resolved, they said — and thrilling moments when they could see the end of the chase.
One came over the weekend, as the two of them raced back in a car from Virginia, having found the evidence they needed to arrest Mr. Jovel. “We’re on the highway, and it’s getting dark,” Detective James said. “We had enough probable cause.”