Witness in pedestrian death by auto calls for independent investigation
Apr 25, 2013 | 7903 views | 1 1 comments | 412 412 recommendations | email to a friend | print

JERSEY CITY – A Jersey City resident who said he was an ear witness to the April 19 vehicular death of pedestrian Stephen Clifford is calling for an independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding the incident.

Clifford, 24, was struck and killed by a car last Friday night at around 10 p.m. as he was crossing Fairmount Avenue near Kennedy Boulevard. Officials have said the car was driven by an off-duty JCPD officer.

Resident Joe Harkins – who said he heard the event late Friday night at around 10 p.m. – was one of the first people to call 911 after the incident. However, Harkins finds it suspicious that he and others who were in the area at the time have not been contacted or interviewed by the Jersey City police.

“Although I saw multiple people present, the public statement from the [Jersey City Police Chief Tom Comey] says that the sole eyewitness they interviewed did not give a name or address,” Harkins told members of the City Council Wednesday night. But, he added, “I have been given the name and address of a man who says he saw the entire incident and claims he gave his eyewitness report and contact information to the police on the scene…Somehow, there is a disconnect between what the police are saying and what I and others are reporting we saw.”

The JCPD has identified Michael Spolizino as the alleged driver of the car. Chief Comey told NJ.com that Spolizino was not driving under the influence, although no field sobriety test was conducted. Published articles said that the light had turned to green and Clifford suddenly attempted to cross against the light, so Spolizino may not have had time to react.

So that the investigation into the death is handled fairly, Harkins is calling on the JCPD to step aside and let an independent investigator from either the state Attorney General's Office or the New Jersey State Police look into the matter. Last night, he called on the City Council to support this request.

However, Peter Nalbach, deputy chief of the JCPD, said, Thursday, “We are perfectly capable of investigating this case. If the [Office of the Hudson County Prosecutor] wants to step over us and take over the case, they have the authority to do that. But at this point, no one is doing that.”

In response to Harkins’ claim that he and other witnesses have not been contacted, Nalbach said, “We don’t know Joe Harkins from a hole in the wall. I’m sorry that Mr. Harkins feels the way that he does. There are a lot of rumors out there, but they don’t jibe with what we know. We don’t have any other witnesses, other than a man [interviewed at the scene] who did not want to give his name or address.”

Nalbach said that if anyone has any information regarding this case, they are welcome to call Chief Comey’s office at (201) 547- 5301. – E. Assata Wright

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April 28, 2013
Deputy Police Chief Nalbach offers yet one more reason why an independent investigation is necessary when he states, "In response to Harkins’ claim that he and other witnesses have not been contacted, . . . . We don’t know Joe Harkins from a hole in the wall."

That ignorance can only be either deliberate or or incompetent; possibly even both. Exactly how hard am I to find?

I was born in Jersey City more than 80 years ago. My family on both sides (and very large families, too in the Irish tradition of the time) has been here 3 generations. My phone number is listed. I am a registered voter. I have lived at this same address, a short walk from Police HQ for many years. Only 3 weeks ago, I had a long, pleasant and mutually supportive phone conversation, and an email exchange, with one the highest ranking officers in the department on a subject of mutual interest. My statements of facts that the vehicle did not stop at the scene within my view, were made in front of the JC City Council at a public meeting where my name and address are publicly registered and I am known to at least 5 of those Council members and by the Mayor who married me and my wife not so very long ago. I am the Committeeman for Ward B, District 2.

Did DPC Nalbach even ask the reporter for my phone number or email address?

Yet, the Deputy Police Chief, an official one would expect has virtually instant access to that information and more, does not know how to find me. Or, if he does, he has not.

I do understand that the initial reaction is defensive of the department. But I repeat that the best way of defending the good reputation of the JCPD is to invite an independent investigation, free of suspicion of obfuscation or bias, where one of their own is involved.

Therefore, by the time this response appears in public, I will have sent a request to the Office of the Attorney General of the State of NJ that an independent investigation be launched that will reveal the unbiased truth about this tragedy.