The four suspects arrested for attempted murder for shooting into the East Camden home of two police officers did not know who they were shooting at, Camden County Police Chief Joseph Wysocki said at a press conference Monday.
Flanked by representatives from the FBI, ATF and the Camden County Prosecutor’s office, Wysocki lauded the collaborative effort that led to arresting Julio Nieves, 19, Jeremiah McDonald, 18, Jaqwa Styles, 19, all of Pennsauken, and Kobbie Johnson, 30, of Collingswood this past weekend. All four are charged with attempted murder, conspiracy to commit murder and weapons charges.
The assailants who allegedly fired six bullets into the home on the 2900 block of Clinton Street, said Wysocki, were targeting the house — and not the Camden County police officers who had been living there for three years. Community engagement officers Randy Cintron and Jaihna Ibanez were on the second floor tending to their 10-day-old baby when the incident occurred on the evening of September 15. None of the three was harmed.
The announcement laid to rest any speculation that Cintron and Ibanez, who attended the press conference but did not speak, were fired upon because of their badges.
“I don’t believe the suspects knew the police officers lived there,” said Wysocki. Later, when pressed by reporters, Wysocki would not comment on who the real targets may have been, saying simply, “They had the wrong house.”
Even as they expressed relief at the arrests, law enforcement officials were hardly celebratory.
The press conference began with Chief Wysocki acknowledging a surge of violence in the city that has resulted in 12 homicides in the last six weeks. He said it was reminiscent of 2012, when 67 people were killed in Camden, drawing national attention for a wave of violence in a small city.
Wysocki had just met the day before, he said, with the daughter of the latest victim, 74-year old Sheila Baskins, who was shot repeatedly around 10 a.m. on Sunday as she sat in a car in the Centerville section of the city. Like the shooting at the officers’ home, Wysocki said he did not believe Baskins was the intended target.
“It rips my heart out what happened,” he said of the grandmother’s killing. “I’m beyond disturbed for this senseless, tragic death. But we have to hold people accountable for their actions and that’s one thing I want to address here today.”
Wysocki credited the Camden County Prosecutor’s office, ATF, FBI, DEA, U.S. Attorney’s Office, U.S. Marshals Task Force, N.J. State Police, and the West Hartford Police Department — because Johnson was apprehended in Connecticut — with invaluable assistance in the arrests of the four men over a 36-hour period.
The speakers pledged to address the current spate of gun violence in the city with their Violent Crime Initiative, an ongoing multi-agency push to share information to try to decrease violent crime in Camden.
Camden County Prosecutor Jill Mayer said that in spite of the media attention garnered by the shooting at the officers’ house, “Our office gives every shooting, every homicide and every act of violence the highest level of attention, dedication and resources.” She said right now they are solving about 70% of homicides in Camden City, the highest “clearance rate” in some time.
“It’s no secret gun violence is up in the city,” said Mayer, “and I’m sure in some way, the anxiety and tension that’s occurring in the world today is a factor.”
Wysocki also acknowledged “an uptick in gang violence in the city … and it has everybody’s attention.”
In recent months, community activists have demanded the force hire more police officers who live in Camden, like Cintron and Ibanez, Wysocki has responded with a recruitment push in the city, but is finding it slow going.
“It’s tough to recruit now with everything that’s going on in the country,” he said. “It doesn’t help.”
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