Investigation reveals public safety official brutalized theft suspect, gave false statement

Michael Manzo, an infamous Jersey City politico working as an aide to the city’s public safety director, allegedly gave false statements to a JCPD detective after attacking a suspected thief, according to supplemental investigation reports.

Saleh Iftikhar - Michael J Manzo - Kevin Fernandez

Left-to-right: Saleh Iftikhar, Michael Manzo, and Kevin Fernandez. (PHOTOS: JCPD body cam footage)

The right-hand man of Jersey City Public Safety Director James Shea and his son-in-law allegedly gave false statements to police after brutalizing a theft suspect, who was apparently wrongly accused, according to documents obtained by Real Garden State.

Ultimately, the victim suffered a broken jaw and was subsequently arrested for possession of crack-cocaine; however, he wasn’t charged with any theft-related crimes. Adding insult to injury, the alleged perpetrators of vigilante violence remain uncharged for their actions.

It was September 22, 2020, at approximately 1:55 PM, when Jersey City Police Department (JCPD) officers were dispatched to the corner of Sip & Bryant Avenues following – 1) a citizen calling 9-1-1 to report two men assaulting another man and 2) an off-duty officer in the area reporting an attempted burglary & theft (B & T) over police radio.

The actors involved with the incident were Michael Manzo (Shea’s top aide, age 64), Kevin Fernandez (Manzo’s son-in-law, age 26), and Saleh Iftikhar (B & T suspect, age 27). Specifically, Iftikhar was accused of stealing $300 in cash, plus a piece of jewelry, from Fernandez’s unlocked vehicle at approximately 7:12 AM that day – which was not reported to police.

According to JCPD Det. Khareem Miller’s report, Manzo & Fernandez stated that, between 11:00 AM and noon, they observed the actor on CCTV footage entering Fernandez’s car earlier that morning – remaining there for several moments before exiting the vehicle.

Around 1:35 PM that day, Fernandez said he identified Iftikhar as the suspected thief, based on similar clothing, and confronted him on Logan Avenue. Manzo quickly joined the confrontation and what exactly happened between that moment and 1:55 PM is the heart of this story.

During their initial statements, captured by P.O. Michael Spolizino’s body cam, Manzo & Fernandez said they confronted Iftikhar to retrieve the stolen items. Upon confronting the suspect, they claim Iftikhar became aggressive and escalated the situation, forcing them to stop him from fleeing.

Notably, Manzo & Fernandez appear to initially contradict each other on whether Iftikhar admitted his guilt. Manzo tells Spolizino the suspect was going to bring them to retrieve the items, even saying Iftikhar asked “what did I take from you,” while Fernandez said the suspect maintained his innocence before running down Bryant Ave.

Additionally, Manzo said Fernandez “tackled” Iftikhar twice to take down the suspect at Sip & Bryant, while Fernandez told Spolizino he “tripped” Iftikhar at the location before the off-duty officer responded.

According to supplemental investigatory reports obtained by Real Garden State, CCTV footage obtained by JCPD detectives from the surrounding areas reveal that Manzo & Fernandez initiated an assault on Iftikhar – including Fernandez putting him in a headlock and punching him in the face at Sip & Bryant.

Also, Iftikhar was arrested for possessing crack-cocaine, but was never charged with any other crime (particularly theft). After retrieving Fernandez’s CCTV footage, detectives would issue a video B.O.L.O. of the burglary “in an attempt to identify the actor.”

On September 29, 2020, Real Garden State filed an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request for electronic communications, body cam footage, and reports stemming from the incident. According to multiple sources, police officials wanted to bury an investigation by their own detectives, but after the OPRA request was filed, the case was forwarded to the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office (HCPO) and Manzo began searching for legal representation.

It’s unknown what the HCPO has done with the case. On December 18, 2020, the city responded to the OPRA request by providing one arrest report, one 9-1-1 call, and body cam footage capturing about 16 minutes of the 17-minute response by officers (minus some audio).

The Jersey City spokesperson did not respond to an email seeking comment on the 9-22-20 incident and the ensuing investigation conducted by JCPD detectives.

Continue reading for in-depth details; listen/watch to 9-1-1 call, body cam, radio transmissions below:

Who is Michael Manzo?

Manzo is technically a Jersey City firefighter, but has been serving as the top assistant to Public Safety Director James Shea since shortly after Steven Fulop was inaugurated as mayor in 2013.

In 2009, Manzo pleaded guilty to accepting a $5,000 bribe from an FBI informant posing as a developer for Operation Bid Rig; however, in 2012, his conviction was overturned after a judge ruled Manzo was improperly charged with violating a federal law that only applies to elected officials (not candidates).

Ironically, when Fulop was first running for mayor in 2013, he heavily criticized his opponent, Jerramiah Healy, for the former mayor’s connections to Bid Rig. Yet Fulop had no problem with Manzo working directly with his public safety director once he took over as mayor.

Notably, Manzo has a close relationship with Ward C Councilman Richard Boggiano – who recently announced that he will be running for re-election on Fulop’s 2021 slate of council candidates after previously winning twice as an independent.

Boggiano declined to comment on this story, but said unequivocally that Manzo is “a friend and a damn good city person.” In short, Manzo’s got powerful friends in the right places.

Michael Manzo - Richard Boggiano - James Shea

Michael Manzo pictured with Ward C Councilman Richard Boggiano (left) and Public Safety Director James Shea (right).

The 9-1-1 call, P.O. Andrew Sarmiento’s report, and radio transmissions

On September 22, 2020, at approximately 1:53 PM, a concerned citizen called 9-1-1 and told the dispatcher that “it seems like someone is getting beat up on [the corner of Sip & Bryant]. They were accused of stealing something. Two people are beating up this other person really bad.”

When asked by the dispatcher if there was any police officers at the scene, the 9-1-1 caller stated there was none at that moment.

At approximately 1:55 PM, off-duty JCPD P.O. Andrew Sarmiento notified dispatchers via radio that he was at the corner of Sip & Bryant, stating “off-duty P.O. witnessed a attempted B & T to a vehicle, I just stopped over there.”

According to a supplemental report written by Sarmiento and obtained by Real Garden State, the off-duty officer was in the area to drop off paperwork at a doctor’s office.

Sarmiento wrote that, upon walking towards the scene to investigate the incident, he saw two males holding down another male. After identifying himself and asking what happened, he said “the males stated they were holding this male who they alleged broke into his relative’s vehicle.”

It was at that time Sarmiento notified dispatch via radio, per his report. Radio dispatches indicate Sgt. Nicholas Gerardi was the first to arrive at the scene, seconds before 1:57 PM. Approximately 2 minutes and 10 seconds later, police officers Oneill Arroyo and Michael Spolizino arrive at the scene based on body camera footage.

Transmissions reveal Gerardi repeating the initial claims of Manzo & Fernandez over the radio and requesting a detective, while Spolizino’s body cam footage captured the officer taking statements from Manzo & Fernandez.

P.O. Michael Spolizino’s body cam footage and report

As previously mentioned, Manzo & Fernandez appear to initially contradict each other on whether Iftikhar admitted his guilt. In fact, Manzo told Spolizino a rather elaborate story about knowing Iftikhar from “that sweet walk about him.”

“I told him that what he did was disrespectful, especially after we told him numerous times that he did it the first time, but we weren’t sure. So today when I viewed the tape, I knew exactly who he was,” Manzo stated.

Manzo claimed Iftikhar was going to show him where the stolen items were, but that the suspect started “pushing and shoving” him and attempted to flee, which caused him and Fernandez to chase & detain Iftikhar. Notably, Fernandez said the suspect maintained his innocence before running.

As for Iftikhar, both Spolizino and P.O. Oneill Arroyo’s body cam footage capture the suspect being Terry frisked & arrested for 1 vial of suspected crack-cocaine (which fell to the ground from a pocket, per officers’ report). After being placed in the back of a JCPD patrol vehicle, Iftikhar complains that “they broke my teeth,” which Spolizino doubted.

Body cam footage also captures Spolizino searching Iftikhar’s bag/wallet. A supplemental report indicates Arroyo did a secondary search of Iftikhar’s clothing, finding 3 crack pipes, 7 empty vials, and 7 empty clear bags. Interestingly enough, it either wasn’t captured by body cam footage or the city refused to release the video.

Of note, Arroyo announced that he had difficulty identifying the name Saleh Iftikhar, prompting Manzo to state “he goes by Muhammed.” The scene at Sip & Broadway appeared to be clear by 2:16 PM, when the body cam footage of Spolizino provided via OPRA ends.

While Spolizino and Arroyo were en route to the JCPD Bureau of Criminal Identification (BCI) to process the arrest, Iftikhar again complained about pain to his mouth area, according to the officers’ report. Upon arriving at BCI, the officers observed that the suspect was bleeding from the mouth and had swelling to both cheeks.

An ambulance was requested and Iftikhar was transferred to Jersey City Medical Center (JCMC). After being examined by a doctor, it was determined the suspect sustained a broken jaw to both sides of their face and would be admitted for surgery.

At that time, Iftikhar was placed on an un-apprehended warrant by Judge McCaffery of the Jersey City Municipal Court for charges related to the crack-cocaine – 2C:35-10.a(1) (Possession of CDS) and 2C:36-1 (Drug Paraphernalia).

JCPD detectives investigate, Real Garden State files OPRA request, and case handed to HCPO

Later on that day, at the JCPD West District, Det. Khareem Miller took statements from Fernandez (3:30-3:42 PM) and Manzo (3:53-4:04 PM). Also participating in the investigation was JCPD Det. Brian Glasser.

Manzo’s story didn’t change from what he stated on camera to Spolizino, but when speaking with Miller, Fernandez changed his story from Iftikhar denied guilt to something closer to his father-in-law’s statement. According to the detective’s report, “Mr. Fernandez states the male initially denied knowing anything about the incident but after he insisted and advised the male saw him on video the male stated he would take him to retrieve the items.”

At 6:12 PM that day, detectives went to retrieve Fernandez’s CCTV footage. After reviewing, Miller indicated a Be On The Look Out with video of the burglary would be issued “in an attempt to identify the actor” – indicating that they didn’t believe Iftikhar was responsible.

Furthermore, JCPD detectives acquired various CCTV videos from private locations that captured Manzo & Fernandez attacking Iftikhar from Logan Ave. to Sip & Bryant. One camera on Logan Ave. reportedly captures:

[1:45:22 PM]- Michael Manzo Sr is seen running westbound on Logan Avenue past [redacted] Logan Ave. He is holding work gloves in his left hand.

[1:48:53 PM]- You can see three sets of legs walking east. As they get closer and come into full camera view the people are identified as Michael Manzo Sr., Kevin Fernandez, Saleh Iftikhar.

[1:49:20 PM]- As the three males are walking eastbound Michael Manzo is seen saying something to the male identified as Saleh Iftikhar while standing in very close proximity to him.

[1:49:24 PM]- Saleh Iftikhar stops walking and Michael Manzo Sr. stops in front of him and appears to lunge at him as to scare him. Saleh Iftikhar jumps and puts his arm up as to block a strike. Mr. Manzo has a pair of work gloves on at this time. The continue to walk eastbound.

[1:49:34 PM]- Saleh Iftikhar stops walking again with Michael Manzo Sr. stopping with him. Michael Manzo Sr. his finger up and saying something to Mr. Iftikhar. Mr Iftikhar backs up and Mr. Manzo lunges towards him and they both go into the alleyway (west side of house between [redacted]) of [redacted] Logan Ave. It appears Mr. Manzo is moving his left arm up as to swing towards Mr. Iftikhar but they go out of camera view into the alleyway. Kevin Fernandez is standing on the sidewalk outside of the alleyway.

[1:49:46 PM]- Mr. Manzo and Mr. Iftikhar come out of the alleyway and all three men continue to walk east. Mr. Manzo is still talking to Mr. Iftikhar. It does not appear Mr. Iftikhar is injured as they come closer to the camera. They then go off this camera view.

Shortly after, another camera on Bryant Ave. captures all three men “running South on Bryant Ave. until they tun out of camera view in the area of Sip/Bryant Aves,” per details from the supplemental investigation report.

A third camera on Sip Ave. captures Iftikhar running across Sip Ave. on Bryant Ave. with Manzo & Fernandez chasing. Specifically, the reports states the video from approximately 1:53 PM depicts:

Just before Mr. Iftikhar reaches the Southwest corner of Sip/Bryant Aves. He is grabbed by the hood of his jacket and placed in a headlock by Mr. Fernandez knocking him to the ground.

Mr. Fernandez is then joined by Mr. Manzo and at this time Mr. Iftikhar attempts to get back to his feet and is struck in the face from behind by Mr. Fernandez with a closed fist. Mr. Iftikhar covers his face and attempts to return to his feet once again and is grabbed a second time by Mr. Fernandez who throws Mr. Iftikhar back to the ground. Mr. Iftikhar’s continued attempts to get to his feet are stopped by Mr. Manzo who appear to step on Mr. Iftikhar a this point and the parties are soon joined by P.O. Sarmiento and Sgt. N. Gerardi.

On September 24, 2020, Iftikhar was interviewed at JCMC and stated “they beat me too much,” referencing the males he believed to be “father and son.” On September 29, 2020, after receiving tips about the situation, Real Garden State filed an OPRA request with the City of Jersey City asking for:

1) All NJSA 47:1A-3B information related to the arrest of Saleh Iftikhar (incident involving Michael Manzo as alleged “victim”). The information must be produced within 24 hours.

2) All electronic communication records related to the arrest of Saleh Iftikhar (incident involving Michael Manzo as alleged “victim”) – including cell phone records of Egdar Martinez and James Shea, dispatch recordings, and recorded phone calls to/from JCPD.

3) All bodycam footage recorded by responding officers related to the arrest of Saleh Iftikhar (incident involving Michael Manzo as alleged “victim”).

On December 18, 2020, the city responded to the OPRA request by providing one arrest report, one 9-1-1 call, and body cam footage capturing about 16 minutes of the 17-minute response by officers (minus some audio). Additionally, a representative of the Clerk’s Office wrote:

Please note that certain additional records are being withheld under OPRA as criminal investigatory records. Under N.J.S.A. 47:1a-1.1, a criminal investigatory record is defined as “a record which is not required by law to be made, maintained or kept on file that is held by a law enforcement agency which pertains to any criminal investigation or related civil enforcement proceeding.” Because you have failed to provide the City with sufficient background information to establish your interest in the documents and corresponding claim thereto under the common law, the City’s interest in preventing disclosure must prevail. Accordingly, access to those records is denied.

Finally, as previously stated, police officials wanted to bury an investigation by their own detectives, according to multiple sources. After the OPRA request was filed the case was forwarded to the HCPO and Manzo began searching for legal representation, but it’s unknown if there’s been any developments since.

In theory, law enforcement sources say Manzo & Fernandez could be facing charges of aggravated assault, criminal restraint, and false incrimination if supplemental reports generated by JCPD detectives are accurate.

Listen/watch to 9-1-1 call, body cam, radio transmissions below:

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