MAHWAH, N.J. – A Queens man who spent 12 years in prison for a shootout that sent four NYPD officers to the hospital was nearly freed after a Mahwah police officer stopped his car and found him with two pounds of pot and hollow-point bullets -- underscoring the need to revisit New Jersey’s 2017 bail reform law, Police Chief James N. Batelli told Daily Voice on Wednesday.
Officer Christopher Fasulo stopped the four-door 2012 Nissan on northbound Route 17 around 12:30 a.m. Wednesday for violations of the driver’s view and vehicle lights, Batelli said.
During a conversation with the driver -- later identified as William Dejesus, 38, of Queens -- Fasulo “made observations that raised his concerns,” prompting a request to search the vehicle, the chief said.
Dejesus refused, so Mahwah's K-9 Remco and handler Robert Rapp were dispatched to the scene.
Remco, trained in drug detection, immediately gave a positive indication to the trunk, where two vacuum-sealed bags of the marijuana and the ammo were found, Batelli said.
Dejesus was also carrying a knife, he said.
Officers arrested Dejesus and his passenger, 36-year-old Noel Medina of Brooklyn.
Dejesus spent 12 years in prison after being convicted of trading gunfire with NYPD officers in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. One officer was treated for a minor hand injury and three others for trauma.
Medina, as well, was on parole for weapons violations, Batelli noted.
Both arrests raised major concerns for the respected veteran chief.
“Since the recently enacted New Jersey Bail Reform Act does not take into consideration out-of-state criminal records when considering whether or not a defendant should be remanded to jail, both DeJesus and Medina received a low PSA — Public Safety Assessment -- which would have put them immediately back on the streets,” Batelli explained.
“Municipal Judge Dennis Harraka was contacted by Sgt. Michael Blondin and, based upon the criminal histories of the two defendants, the complaints were put on warrants and both DeJesus and Medina were remanded to the Bergen County Jail.”
Although New Jersey had a need for bail reform, Batelli said, “one of the glaring deficiencies is the inability of the process to take into consideration out of state criminal histories when determining a PSA or Public Safety Assessment which will decide if a defendant remanded to jail or put back on the street.”
Both men remained held in the county lockup pending detention hearings on various drug and weapons counts.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Shortly after the appearance of this story, New Jersey's top law enforcement officer on Wednesday announced changes, effectively immediately, in how prosecutors and police can proceed under a controversial 2017 state bail reform law that has drawn harsh criticism from both.