Judge John A. Young defied Gov. Phil Murphy when sentencing a former Jersey City cop convicted of Official Misconduct.
Would they have sent Denzel Suitt to prison?
They being Gov. Phil Murphy, every state legislator, and every journalist that opposed ending mandatory minimums for Official Misconduct. Without knowing all of the facts, they’ve already answered Yes to the original question because only one fact matters to them – a guilty verdict.
Suitt, a former Jersey City Police Department (JCPD) officer, faced trial in February 2020 for allegedly robbing Jermaine Palms during a motor vehicle stop in a city park on March 25, 2018. Despite being accused of stealing $600, a Hudson County jury found Suitt guilty of Theft by Unlawful Taking ($500 or less) and Official Misconduct (directly related to the theft) with a benefit not greater than $200.
Sentencing in Suitt’s case had been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and proposed legislation which would’ve ended mandatory minimums for many non-violent offenses (including Official Misconduct).
Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez, in her role as president of the County Prosecutors Association of New Jersey, urged the governor to veto the legislation because mandatory minimums for Official Misconduct are “a key deterrent to entrusted public officials and employees from violating their sworn duty.”
County Prosecutors Association opposes new bill that would eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for corruption offenses in addition to other on-violent crimes. Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez wrote this letter to @GovMurphy. pic.twitter.com/ni1PWq4ybD
— Matt Friedman (@MattFriedmanNJ) March 10, 2021
When Murphy vetoed the aforementioned legislation on April 19, 2021, the governor stated “New Jersey’s robust penalties against public corruption offenses, such as official misconduct, are often the most powerful tools that our prosecutors have to hold bad actors in law enforcement accountable.”
Following Murphy’s veto, it seemed like Hudson County Superior Court Judge John A. Young was on the brink of sending Suitt to prison on April 28, 2021, based on the incredibly high standard for waiving a mandatory minimum.
If he were found guilty of stealing $600 – what he was actually accused of – Suitt was facing a minimum of five years in prison. Based on being found guilty of Official Misconduct with a benefit not greater than $200, the convicted cop was facing two years of incarceration.
However, on April 24, 2021, part 4 of Real Garden State’s multi-part story covering the State vs. Denzel Suitt – The false prosecution of a black cop explained in 10 points – was published. Three days later, on April 27, 2021, Blacks in Law Enforcement Servicing the Community (B.L.E.S.C.) and Jersey City Council candidates Chris Gadsden & Frank Gilmore hosted a press conference demanding justice for Suitt.
Speakers at the event expressed outrage with how Suitt’s case was handled by the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office (HCPO) and called on Murphy & Attorney General Gurbir Grewal to intervene. Sentencing was postponed by Young the following day.
Source say Young was dismayed with Asst. Prosecutor Christina Krauthamer and defense attorney Keith Hirschorn after learning details about the case through the media. One particular concern was that a statement given to the HCPO by the alleged victim’s ex-girlfriend, Kennyatta Brown, conflicted with the state’s timeline of events regarding the night of the alleged robbery and indicated that evidence used during the trial was forged.
Of note, the prosecutor’s office claimed they couldn’t locate Brown to testify during the trial. Around the same time activists began to rally around him, Suitt retained the services of Cowan Investigations, New Jersey private investigators with deep roots in the JCPD & HCPO, and they were able to successfully contact Brown.
Brown allegedly expressed that she was the real victim and “everyone else involved in the case was able to testify at the trial and tell their story, but that the prosecutor’s office never called her to testify,” according to Cowan Investigations.
Given all of the post-trial revelations, and hearing about Suitt’s harrowing childhood in New Jersey’s foster care system, sources say Young felt incarceration would be an injustice he couldn’t live with. Ultimately, the judge sentenced Suitt to 5 years of probation, 200 hours of community service, and ordered he pay $500 restitution to the alleged victim. Watch sentencing hearing for Denzel Suitt below:
In an interview with Hudson County View, Suitt said “I feel like [Judge John A. Young] really took into consideration a lot of factors, especially my history, and I really want to thank him for being courageous and standing up, doing what he felt as though was right.” He also stated he maintains his innocence and plans to appeal the conviction (a GoFundMe campaign for his legal defense was launched by Asheenia Johnson).
Courageous could be one way to describe Young, a registered Republican, openly defying the Democratic governor and liberal journalists by refusing to send Suitt to prison. In the same breath, the judge 1) can’t be fired; 2) probably wasn’t concerned about mainstream media scrutiny; and 3) might’ve known beforehand that any decision would not be appealed.
After the sentencing hearing, an initial request by Krauthamer to appeal Young’s decision was denied by Suarez, per sources. For the county prosecutor, it was a drastic evolution from the public stance taken in a letter urging Murphy to veto legislation repealing mandatory minimums for non-violent offenses (which included Official Misconduct).
In the end, if put in Young’s position, and given the same set of facts, would Gov. Murphy or any other proponent of mandatory minimums for Official Misconduct send Suitt to prison?
If their answer is Yes, facts don’t matter (except for one). If their answer is No, maybe state Sen. Nicholas Sacco was right about “removing mandatory minimum sentences for official misconduct offenses and giving sentencing discretion to judges.”