PBA members honored for work in sex crimes

The 23rd Annual NJ Sex Crimes Information Sharing Conference, scheduled on Dec. 2-4 at the Seaview in Galloway Township, usually includes an awards ceremony to recognize officers who exemplified greatness in their work in the field of sex crimes and child abuse.

The conference, co-hosted by the New Jersey Sex Crimes Officers Association (NJSCOA) and the Middle Atlantic-Great Lakes Organized Crime Law Enforcement Network (MAGLOCLEN), was cancelled due to concerns regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.

NJSCOA and MAGLOCLEN believed it was important to continue to commend excellence in this line of work, especially in the face of a pandemic. The entire association was notified of award recipients via email and the awards list was posted on the NJSCOA website.

“Even at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, no one stopped working,” NJSCOA Chairman Joanne Son praised. “Every year and even more so this year, it was important to show the dedication that these officers have and the extra sacrifices they’ve had to make.”

The 2020 Outstanding Law Enforcement Service Award went to members of the Cape May Prosecutor’s Office Local 59, Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office Local 232, North Bergen Local 18 and Union County Prosecutor’s Office Local 250. Here is a look at this year’s honorees:

Union County Prosecutor’s Office

Union County Prosecutor’s Office Local 250 member Joanne Son received the Outstanding Law Enforcement Service Award for her pivotal work in locating and arresting a man who sexually assaulted an elderly woman.

A woman was taking the garbage out of her residence when her granddaughter’s ex-boyfriend sexually assaulted the woman and then moved her to another area of the residence to continue the assault. The victim, while fearing for her life, tried to distract the suspect before he fled the scene.

Son, who has been working in the field of sex crimes for 16 years, is also the NJSCOA’s chairman.

“At any given time, it would be fair to say I’m working on five to 10 cases at the same time,” she shared. “In SVU across the state, you’re just constantly triaging your work and figuring out what’s the most important thing to do in that second.”

Her efforts in tracking down potential witnesses and analyzing forensic data and video surveillance along with her experienced investigative skills helped to charge the man with aggravated sexual assault, burglary, sexual assault and aggravated criminal sexual contact. It is her first time receiving the award.

Son understands that in many cases, victims are going to her after experiencing what probably would be the worst thing to happen in their lives.

“I don’t ever want someone to walk away from our office feeling as though they weren’t heard or treated well,” she noted. “I hope she [the victim] understands that we did it for her.”

Son uses an analogy to describe working in the SVU.

“It’s like trying to shovel in the middle of a snowstorm, you’re just trying to manage and trying to maintain,” she remarked. “I treated this case the same way I treat all my cases and it felt really nice to be recognized not only by my supervisors, but also my peers.”

Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office and North Bergen Police Department

Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office Special Victims Unit officers, who are members of Local 232, and detectives from North Bergen Local 18 received awards for identifying a man who raped a 23-year-old female in October 2019. Officers were contacted about a woman who had been grabbed from behind by an unknown male who threatened her with a sharp object. He then pulled her into the Grove Church Cemetery and sexually assaulted her.

Through a team effort in an all-hands-on-deck investigation, members of the Special Victims Unit and detective bureau worked tirelessly to identify the 27-year-old suspect in a matter of days.

Officers working the SVU detail from Hudson County were honored included Captain Matthew Gasiorowski, Lieutenant Javier Toro, Sergeant Maria Dargan (retired), Sergeant Leslie Feinholtz, Sergeant Peter Kwon, Sergeant Polly Hans, Detective Francin Cifuentes, Detective Allison Dixon, Sergeant Adam Drew (Hudson County Corrections – on loan), Detective Sean Kennedy, Detective Amanda Klarmann, Detective Michelle Lenczuk, Detective Josue Martinez, Detective Julia Medina, Detective Aida Miranda, Detective Kevin O’Reilly, Detective Christopher Pelaez (Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office), Detective Ashley Rubel, Detective Yvette Scarpa, Detective Jamie Sackerman, and Detective Lusmary Sepulveda.

Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office CSI Detectives Meagan Larsen and Risheem Whitten and TARU Detectives Paul Grosso, Richard Jubak Jr., Josh Skolnick and Matthew Svorinic were also involved in the investigation.

Members from North Bergen Local 18 receiving the award included Captain David Dowd, Sergeant Insetta, Sergeant Roberto Maldonado, Sergeant Edgar Mendez, Sergeant Brian O’Niell, Sergeant Thomas Yfantis, Detective Hector Botello, Detective Jason Castillo, Detective Constantinos, Detective Christopher Orellana, Officer Placido Hernandez, Detective Eric Weyand, Officer Saray Durango, Officer Chris Fernandez, Officer Kayla Muniz, Officer Julio Norriega, Officer Jorge Palaguachi, Officer Johnny Sanchez, Officer Samantha Sexton, Officer G. Somarribla and Officer Michael Whalen.

Hudson County Sheriff’s Officers Local 334 member Brian Vitali was also involved in the investigation which charged the suspect with kidnapping, aggravated sexual assault while armed, armed robbery and more, all first-degree crimes.

Cape May Prosecutor’s Office and NJ State Police

Cape May Prosecutor’s Office Local 59 member Jennifer Falciani received the Outstanding Law Enforcement Service Award for their work in a yearlong investigation to identify two males who sexually assaulted a juvenile victim in July 2019. They assaulted the victim at a residence in Belleplain.

Detective Falciani utilized multiple interviews, search warrants, communication warrants and subpoenas which resulted in the identification of two additional victims as well as three additional defendants. The members’ persistence and dedication in the investigation that concluded with multiple charges on the five defendants helped them to receive the award.