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