State vs. Denzel Suitt: The $600 case against a Jersey City cop

Guilty or Not Guilty? Examine the evidence, witnesses, and arguments made during the the State vs. Denzel Suitt and make your own decision.

This is part 1 of a multi-part story covering the State vs. Denzel Suitt, a criminal trial which took place in February 2020. This article presents the evidence, witnesses, and arguments made by the prosecution and defense in Hudson County Superior Court Judge John A. Young’s courtroom.

The entire trial, in chronological order, can be watched on YouTube and is approximately eight hours long. This written breakdown is approximately 3,500 words.

The Indictment, Prosecution, and Internal Affairs Investigation

According to the original indictment, on March 25, 2018, Jersey City Police Department (JCPD) P.O. Denzel Suitt conducted a stop of Jermaine Palms – during which the officer allegedly stole $600. Because Suitt was accused of committing the theft while on duty, the officer stood trial for Theft by Unlawful Taking (third-degree) and Official Misconduct (second-degree). Three other important notes:

1) The indictment was signed by Assistant Prosecutor Joseph Pahopin. However, he left the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office (HCPO) shortly thereafter for the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office. The case was ultimately prosecuted by A.P. Christina Krauthamer.

2) For whatever reason, Krauthamer was abandoned by her original trial assistant minutes after they saw me (and my camera) in the courtroom. They were replaced by an individual who apparently had no prior knowledge of the state’s case/exhibits.

3) Most of the evidence from the case was introduced during the testimony of lead investigator Sgt. Jocelyn Roldan (Torres), a member of the JCPD’s Internal Affairs Unit (IAU) for the past three years. Prior to IAU, Roldan was assigned to the South District from 2009-2015 and served as a police academy instructor after that. Watch Part 1 of Roldan’s testimony:

Sgt. Roldan’s interview of Jermaine Palms

Even though the jury was shown only a short snippet of Roldan’s interview with Palms, including a muted section, they were able to watch Palms’ identification of Suitt and his partner, Officer Kevin Osorio, plus another officer who “might have” dealt with his brother.

The most interesting takeaways: 1) Initially, Palms didn’t identify whether Suitt or Osorio robbed him; 2) Palms said the guy with the mustache dealt with his brother; and 3) the lineup shown to Palms was based solely on “two Hispanic male officers” without taking into account skin color, body type, or any other factor (yet included an Asian-American officer).

JCPD officers included in the lineup shown to Jermaine Palms (PHOTO: Real Garden State)

Bayside Park CCTV footage

CCTV cameras in Bayside Park where the alleged robbery occurred – described to the jury as a high-crime area – weren’t working since at least 2015, according to Roldan. Whether or not Suitt, a cop since June 2015, knew the cameras weren’t functional at the time wasn’t established.

Other takeaways from the Bayside Park cameras from March 25, 2018: 1) a white sedan turns down Bayside Terrace from Richard Street around 12:29 AM; 2) a JCPD patrol vehicle does the same around 12:53 AM; 3) the JCPD vehicle exits Bayside Terrace, a dead-end street, around 1:06 AM; and 4) the white sedan exits at around 1:35 AM.

Investigators determined that the white sedan was operated by Palms – with his brother, Jonathan Davis, sitting in the passenger seat.

Domino’s Pizza CCTV Footage, 9-1-1 call, and JCPD communications

Interestingly enough, the Domino’s Pizza CCTV video is timestamped March 24, 2018, yet it’s clear any encounter between Suitt and Palms occurred on March 25, 2018. According to Krauthamer, the only issue with the timestamp was that it was an hour behind – which means that Palms and Davis arrived at approximately 1:44 AM, not 12:44 AM.

However, the timestamp on the video appeared to be set in military time based on a change from 12:59 to 13:00 – which would actually make it 1 PM on March 24, 2018. Based on it clearly being nighttime, that time would clearly be inaccurate, too.

Timestamps of Domino’s Pizza CCTV Footage from State vs. Denzel Suitt.

Timestamp accuracy issues aside, according to the state’s presentation: 1) around 1:50 AM, Palms begins to search himself and the vehicle he was operating; and 2) after Davis appears to be on a phone call for about two minutes, they both leave Domino’s in the white sedan at about 2:02 AM.

Additionally, according to Roldan, Davis placed a 9-1-1 call to report the robbery at about 2:02 AM and the duration was approximately 6 minutes and 44 seconds. The 9-1-1 operator, dismissive at first, eventually took information from Davis – including that he was standing on Bidwell Ave. & Ocean Ave. nearly three minutes into the call.

Two other phone calls involving Davis were played during Roldan’s testimony – one was a dispatcher calling Davis back at 2:23 AM, the other was Davis calling the JCPD South District at an unknown time (it was brief and captured an apparent argument Davis was having).

Also of note, Roldan stated that a radio room sergeant notified Sgt. Doug Paretti, working as a South District supervisor, of Davis’ complaint and to respond to Bidwell & Ocean.

Davis approaches P.O. Jerry Ngo on Ocean Ave.

During the early morning hours of March 25, 2018, a JCPD patrol unit was working a stationary (fixed) post near the intersection of Ocean Avenue and Wegman Parkway. Inside the vehicle were JCPD Officers Jerry Ngo & Leslie Chavarria. As part of Roldan’s investigation, no patrol logs for Ngo & Chavarria from that night were obtained, but there was a vehicle inspection report.

CCTV footage monitoring the intersection appears to show: 1) Davis approaching the patrol unit around 2:13 AM; 2) Davis is seen walking away from the vehicle on Ocean Ave. towards Bidwell Ave. about three minutes later; and 3) around 2:24 AM, Sgt. Paretti responds and makes contact with Ngo & Chavarria.

According to Ngo’s testimony, Davis walked away from the vehicle because he was no longer interested in pursuing the complaint – stating something like “I’ll handle it myself.” As well, when Paretti arrives, the officers inform their supervisor that they spoke with the brother of the alleged robbery victim. Watch P.O. Jerry Ngo’s testimony:

Sgt. Doug Paretti talks investigation response

Sgt. Doug Paretti’s testimony was the shortest of the trial, but it did have three significant moments: 1) Krauthamer grilled Paretti regarding who had knowledge about which CCTV cameras weren’t working in Bayside Park; 2) it revealed that the JCPD viewed Jonathan Davis as homeless (Paretti referred to him as a “moron”); and most importantly 3) based on Paretti’s testimony, Roldan didn’t collect every police radio transmission.

As for the evidence, two phone calls involving Paretti were played in court. Notably, Paretti refers to the other person on those calls as the “control desk supervisor” (dispatcher), not “radio room sergeant” (like Roldan testified).

The first call was from the dispatcher to Paretti notifying him of Davis’ complaint. Paretti stated under oath that when he arrived to Bidwell & Ocean there was no one there to meet him, and that he asked the dispatcher over the radio to call Davis.

The second phone call was from Paretti to the dispatcher (after speaking with Ngo & Chavarria, according to Paretti). During that call, Paretti tells the dispatcher to document that Davis said the situation was a “misunderstanding.” When asked by Krauthamer who told him that Davis said it was a “misunderstanding,” Paretti claimed it was the dispatcher via radio transmission prior to the phone call. Watch Sgt. Doug Paretti’s testimony:

JCPD South District CCTV footage

CCTV footage from the JCPD South District shows Palms & Davis arriving at the precinct around 2:39 AM on March 25, 2018. Because both men exited out of the passenger side of the white sedan, it’s clear someone else was operating the vehicle by that time.

As evidenced by the video, the men left the police precinct after two and a half minutes. According to Roldan’s testimony, the officer working the desk during that shift was Craig Kutiak.

Sgt. Roldan cross-examination

The cross-examination of Roldan by Suitt’s defense attorney, Keith Hirschorn, highlighted the following points:

1) After producing a final investigation report on April 19, 2018, all other new information regarding the case was forwarded to the HCPO.

2) Roldan made it clear that she knew the Bayside Park CCTV cameras hadn’t been working since she was assigned to the JCPD South District, but it was never established whether that was commonly known.

3) Roldan testified that she was told by the Domino’s Pizza manager that the timestamp on their CCTV footage was off by 1 hour. As well, the IAU investigator confirmed that 13:00 military time is 1 PM, but no further questions regarding the Domino’s timestamp issue were raised.

4) Roldan said she didn’t know who Suitt was or that he was black/African-American prior to her investigation, which included the “Hispanic male officers” lineup presented to Palms. Notably, another black/African-American officer working that night, Jermaine Truesdale, was not included into the lineup, and Roldan could not recall whether Truesdale’s skin complexion was comparable to Suitt’s complexion.

5) There was no mention of the Palms encounter on log sheets for Suitt & Osorio, yet the issue of which officer was ultimately responsible for filling them out was never resolved.

6) Allegations of police misconduct aren’t supposed to be radioed over the air to preserve the integrity of internal investigations.

7) P.O. Kutiak, who was supposedly working the desk when Palms & Davis entered the JCPD South District on March 25, 2018, wasn’t questioned as part of Roldan’s investigation. Watch Part 2 of Roldan’s testimony:

Aunt Diane’s $600 loan

During the testimony of Palms’ aunt, Diane Johnson, the backstory regarding the $600 allegedly stolen emerged. Johnson said she gave Palms the money, on March 24, 2018, to pay a security deposit for a home in Upstate New York.

Palms was living in Johnson’s home and planning to move with Kenyatta Brown, his girlfriend at the time. Five other key takeaways:

1) Two separate promissory notes related to the $600 came to light (one for $600, the other for $500). Johnson was unsure which promissory note was signed first or if they were signed on the same day.

2) Johnson stated that she had two strokes since the loan, so details were difficult to recall at times, but knew she withdrew $500 because of her bank statement. The other $100 of the $600 given to Palms was cash she had in her home.

3) A screenshot of Johnson’s bank statement shows that she withdrew $500 from a Bank of America ATM on 3/24/18 (but posted on 3/26/18) and then deposited $600 back on 3/28/2018.

Diane Johnson's Bank Statement

Diane Johnson’s Bank Statement

4) Johnson testified that of the $600 given to Palms, he was only supposed to give $500 back because he earned $100 from performing house work for his aunt. Additionally, Johnson stated that Palms did the similar work for her daughter.

5) Johnson testified that Palms’ girlfriend was the person responsible for the $500 loan. Brown eventually paid Johnson back, but it’s unknown when that actually happened. Watch Diane Johnson’s testimony:

Jermaine Palms, Jonathan Davis, and JCPD P.O. Kevin Osorio testify about fateful encounter

To quote Krauthamer from her opening statement, Palms is “a lifelong Jersey City resident, he is what he is, he’s in his 40’s… he has prior convictions for crimes… and you’re going to be asked to consider that in the context of this trial and his testimony.” Watch Part 1 of Jermaine Palms’ testimony:

During the beginning of his questioning, Palms admitted that he pleaded guilty and served time in state prison for various narcotics charges, eluding and aggravated assault of a police officer, and obstruction of justice.

Regarding his personal life, Palms stated that Davis was his godbrother, they weren’t raised together, but they’ve known each other since they were babies. He also testified that he’s been unemployed since 2007, had a pending disability compensation claim, and at the time of the alleged theft was preparing to move to Corning, NY, with Brown and his daughter.

As for the loan, Palms said he borrowed $600 from Johnson, but only had to pay back $500 after performing chores, and that it was actually his girlfriend who would pay the loan back because he was unemployed. The money was for a security deposit on a Section 8 apartment, per testimony.

The $600 loan given to Palms was secured by a promissory note. Technically, Palms presented investigators with two notes – one for $500 and another for $600 – that were allegedly signed by Brown. When questioned by Krauthamer, Palms testified that the first note was for $500, but that his aunt lost the note, so a second note was created for $600.

Palms stated the difference between the two amounts was because he only had to pay Johnson back $500, but no explanation was given to Krauthamer regarding why the second note was for $600.

The second of two promissory notes presented to investigators by Jermaine Palms.

Additionally, Palms said the $600 was in his wallet at the time of the alleged robbery (specifically twelve $50 bills). He also claimed to have approximately $70 of loose cash in one of his pants pockets, change remaining from $100 given to him by Johnson’s daughter (for performing chores) after making some purchases.

Notably, Palms no longer had the wallet from the fateful encounter with Suitt when he arrived to court – so he described what was allegedly a trifold wallet with velcro during his testimony.

Jermaine Palms’ timeline and cross-examination

The night of March 24, 2018, supposedly started after Palms received the $600 and left Johnson’s home in East Orange, NJ, with Brown. They travelled to Bidwell & Ocean Avenues in Jersey City, where his then-girlfriend’s mother lived, so Brown could see her family before leaving for Upstate New York, according to Palms.

Palms testified Brown drove from East Orange to Jersey City. After they arrived around midnight, Brown went inside her mother’s home and Palms left with her vehicle. Palms said Brown allowed him to take the car to pick up Davis so the godbrothers could spend time together before Palms & Brown departed around 4 AM.

Of note, Palms admitted that he didn’t have a drivers license and the plan was to consume alcoholic beverages with Davis.

According to Palms, he drove to Boyd & West Side Avenues to pick up Davis. Once Davis was in the vehicle, the two headed to Orient Avenue & Martin Luther King Drive to purchase alcohol from Columbia Tavern (aka The Dog House). Palms says he gave Davis $20 from his loose money for a half pint of E&J and a 12-ounce beer, though, couldn’t recall if he was given any change back.

After purchasing the alcohol, Palms testified that he drove the vehicle to Bayside Park, parked illegally, and that before he could begin drinking, a marked JCPD vehicle approached him and Davis with no lights or headlights on. Moreover, Palms pointed to Suitt as the officer who told him to step out the vehicle, take everything out of his pockets, and place his possessions on the hood of the vehicle.

Palms claimed Suitt took the wallet from the roof of the car, stepped off to the side, and went through it. Although Palms said he could see Suitt with his peripheral vision, he never testified that he saw the JCPD officer take any money, and eventually the wallet was returned.

According to Palms, Suitt’s partner barely interacted with Davis, and the officers left the scene after his wallet was searched without issuing any tickets. Shortly thereafter him & Davis headed to Domino’s on Communipaw Ave. – which is where he realized that the $600 lost.

Ultimately, Palms & Brown, plus his daughter and her son, never left the next day for Upstate New York on March 25, 2018. Palms claims the encounter impacted his life. He  was supposedly unable to move to the apartment until six months later because 1) Brown had to pay $500 to his aunt; and 2) Brown separated from him when she found an employment opportunity in Philadelphia, PA, and it took him time to save up money for a security deposit.

Furthermore, although he was composed when answering Krauthamer’s questions, Hirschorn’s cross-examination flustered Palms to the point Judge Young had to warn him about his behavior multiple times. Watch Part 2 of Jermaine Palms’ testimony:

During his line of questioning, Hirschorn clarified the following points from Palms’ testimony:

1) Palms & Brown were actually planning on making two trips to Upstate New York. The first would be to drop off their belongings. The second would be to come back to Jersey City and bring the kids with them.

2) The security deposit for the apartment was actually for $750. Palms claimed he had already paid the landlord $150.

3) Johnson wanted Brown to sign a promissory note. The promissory notes were signed on different days, despite both notes having the same date of March 24, 2018. First he said his ex-girlfriend wrote the promissory notes, then his aunt, then Palms admitted he wasn’t sure. He also testified that Brown signed both notes and he signed the second note.

4) Palms conflicted previous testimony that he never took the wallet out of his pocket. In fact, he stated he showed the money to Davis when he picked him up from Boyd & West Side in Brown’s vehicle.

5) When shown the Domino’s CCTV footage, Palms stated he was there on March 24, 2018 – despite the previously mentioned timestamp issue which would conflict with his testimony.

6) When Palms’ apparently realized he no longer had the $600 while at Domino’s, he searched his pockets and vehicle frantically, but did not go back to Bayside Park because he claimed to still have the wallet.

Jonathan Davis recalls fateful encounter

Like Palms, Davis has a criminal history which was raised during the trial – pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit theft in 2004 and arson in the third degree in 2016. Davis was on probation for the arson charge when testifying.

As for the night of the fateful encounter, Davis claimed he saw the $600 when Palms showed him the money in a triple fold wallet, but the cash was never taken out of the wallet.

Additionally, Davis said he met with Palms before midnight on March 24, 2018, and that he had been drinking throughout the day – approximately 10 to 15 shots of vodka. When asked whether or not he was drunk when Palms picked him up, Davis said he was “tipsy,” and it takes approximately 20 shots for him to get drunk.

Conflicting with Palms’ testimony, Davis said he purchased two beers when purchasing alcohol from Columbia Tavern. Of note, he also claimed that he started drinking heavily in 2018 after being diagnosed with serious health conditions. Watch Jonathan Davis’ testimony:

Regarding the actual encounter in Bayside Park, Davis’ story mostly aligned with Palms’ story. They both referred to Suitt as being rude. Davis said the officer who dealt with him wasn’t rude and described the officer’s appearance as a man with a caramel complexion & thick mustache.

The rest of Davis’ testimony involving Krauthamer went through the encounters/recorded conversations with police/dispatchers from March 25, 2018 – which Davis described as essentially being fruitless.

Upon cross-examination from Hirschorn, Davis testified that he met with prosecutors to discuss the case three times before trial. Notably, Davis stated that prosecutors – gesturing towards Krauthamer – showed him video evidence when he met with them (specifically the JCPD South District CCTV footage).

With use immunity, JCPD P.O. Kevin Osorio testifies

On the night of March 24, 2018, Suitt’s parter was fellow JCPD P.O. Kevin Osorio. Regarding the stop of Palms and Davis, Osorio testified that it did happen, but no radio transmissions or logging of the event occurred. He also admitted that he was the officer responsible for filling out the event log during the shift in question.

A large chunk of Osorio’s testimony revolved around a “use immunity agreement” he signed to provide statements regarding the criminal investigation of the fateful encounter. The JCPD officer said his understanding of the agreement is that he can only be charged with a crime if he lies in court. Watch P.O. Kevon Osorio’s testimony:

During Hirschorn’s cross-examination, Osorio confirmed that he was “spurred on” to remember the stop with Palms and Davis when he was questioned by HCPO investigators. As well, due to his lack of recollection, the officer needed the transcript of his interview with investigators to provide answers when initially questioned by Krauthamer.

Regarding the actual encounter, Osorio testified that when him and Suitt approached the vehicle he saw containers of alcohol on the car’s floor and enough clothes that it was possible someone was in the process of relocation. Krauthamer asked Osorio if him and Suitt believed that Palms was homeless, which he suggested was a possibility, but that Palms said he was moving.

Recognizing Palms’ situation, and the fact no weapons were discovered, the officers decided not to issue any tickets for infractions observed, according to Osorio. Most importantly, Osorio stated that he never saw Suitt take anything from the alleged victims and that Suitt never spoke with him about taking anything after the stop of Palms & Davis.

Hirschorn & Krauthamer deliver closing arguments, Jury reaches verdict

Watch closing arguments by Attorney Keith Hirschorn and AP Christina Krauthamer (video above).

For the purpose of brevity, the closing statements and verdict will be summarized in one paragraph for each; however, readers are encouraged to watch video of the closing arguments.

In his closing statement, Hirschorn slammed the evidence in the case stemming from the “comically” bad JCPD IAU investigation – especially the Domino’s CCTV video timestamp issue and Palms’ not having the original wallet to present in court. Additionally, Hirschorn stressed that Palms, nor anyone else, testified that they saw Suitt take any money and the officers gave the two men a break by not issuing any tickets. Simply put, based on the evidence presented in court, Hirschorn told the jury it was impossible to find Suitt guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

In her closing statement, Krauthamer stated that Suitt’s JCPD colleagues “banded together” to protect him to the detriment of Palms. That Palms and Davis did everything society would expect of victims of crime on the night of the fateful encounter, but were rebuffed, and they shouldn’t be judged for their criminal history when deliberating a verdict.

On February 13, 2020, After a few hours of deliberation, which started on a late afternoon and continued through the morning of the following day, February 13, 2020, the jury found Suitt guilty of theft equal to or less than $500 and guilty of official misconduct – related to the theft – with a benefit of less than $200. Watch verdict below:

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