A Weehawken police officer was indicted Tuesday in the death of a Union City teenager who had had a physical altercation with the officer in July.
An indictment is not a decision of guilt, but merely a decision by a grand jury that there is enough evidence in a case for it to go to trial.
In addition to receiving a murder indictment, Weehawken Police Officer Alejandro Jaramillo was also handed down indictments for multiple counts of official misconduct, aggravated assault and a series of weapons charges.
Considering the evidence that has been presented against the 23-year-old Jaramillo since the fatal incident last summer, the indictment proceeding was bound to take place, according to Hudson County Prosecutor Edward DeFazio.
“It was the grand jury’s decision to come back with the indictment after we presented the charge,” DeFazio said. “They found probable cause that the murder charge we presented was appropriate in the case. There was a more comprehensive presentation made to the grand jury, including witnesses that were called to testify, both civilian and police. After a couple of days of testimony, the grand jury decided that this case should go to trial and the matter will take its course through the criminal justice system.”
DeFazio said that the indictment “wasn’t an extraordinary event,” considering the testimony that was presented in the case.
“When there’s a case with normal cause, this would be the result,” DeFazio said. “Usually, an indictment is returned based on the complaint that was filed. I can’t help to think that the evidence in this case warranted a trial.”
Jaramillo was arrested last July after 17-year-old Jose Ives, Jr., a Union Hill High School junior, died from the injuries he suffered during the apparent argument with Jaramillo, who was off-duty at the time of the incident on July 16.
According to police, Ives’ younger brothers and other kids were in Weehawken allegedly setting off car alarms. Sources said Jaramillo had words with the kids, and then Ives came out to see what was going on. Somehow, a confrontation landed Ives on the ground.
The teenager suffered multiple skull fractures in the incident and died eight days later, setting off a series of protests and demonstrations throughout the streets of Union City and Weehawken.
Gov. Jim McGreevey went to the Ives family home soon after young Jose had died.
At his bail hearing, Jaramillo pleaded not guilty to the charges of murder that the Prosecutor’s Office presented when it was learned after an autopsy that the teenager had suffered multiple skull fractures – giving credence to some eyewitness accounts that Jaramillo allegedly jumped on top of the teenager and pounded his head to the pavement.
When the charges were filed against Jaramillo, he was placed on unpaid leave from the Weehawken police department, where he had served for nearly two years.
Jaramillo was released from Hudson County Jail July 28 after posting $250,000 bail. He made his bail appearance via a closed circuit television link from the Hudson County jail.
Next month, Jaramillo will have to face the Ives family and a Hudson County Superior Court judge for the first time when he has his initial arraignment hearing, scheduled for sometime in February.
Trial likely this year
DeFazio said that Hudson County Assistant Prosecutor Al Iglesias will more than likely try the case. DeFazio said that he expects the case to go to trial sometime within 2004.
“I think the matter can be resolved by the end of the year,” DeFazio said. “At least, I hope so. I think by the fall would be a reasonable goal as far as we’re concerned.”
Robert Galantucci, Jaramillo’s attorney, wasn’t surprised by the indictment notification, but still had not received a formal copy of the indictment by press time Thursday.
“I have not read the document, so I’m not prepared to say anything on what the grand jury presented,” Galantucci said. “I think there is a lot of work to be done before we can think about a trial date. I don’t have the resources that the state of New Jersey has. I do look forward to the opportunity to present the case to a fair and impartial jury.”
Galantucci is not pleased with the way the case has been handled thus far.
“How you can conduct a matter of justice in such a shabby manner is beyond me,” Galantucci said. “Justice will ultimately prevail. I’m looking forward to trying this case in a public forum, not one that is damaged by the hype. I want to have the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses. As long as I have time to prepare and I’m not rushed, we’ll be fine. I don’t want to slow down the process, but I don’t want to rush it either.”
Galantucci was asked to describe how his client is doing.
Galantucci said, “He’s a young man who put his life on the line every time he put on that uniform and went out to protect the people of Weehawken. Now, he gets to see how the system works and the politics involved. He feels he’s been let down by the system he was willing to give his life for. Many people have deserted him.”
Galantucci added, “I think my client always knew that the charges could go against him. Right now, he feels the system treated him as a traitor.”
Efforts to reach Anthony Mack, the attorney representing the Ives family, were unsuccessful at press time.