Unusual week for police

A bomb threat, a shooting, and an intoxicated man in river

Hoboken police and cooperating agencies spent the last week searching for the individual who called in a bomb threat that led to the evacuation of the Neumann Leathers building and the closing of roads at Hoboken’s southern border last Saturday night.
After the evacuation was complete, said Police Chief Ken Ferrante, police received a second call from the male individual thanking them for clearing the building. “I don’t really want to kill civilians,” the man said, according to Ferrante, “I just want to kill myself and police officers.”
No weapons were found in several sweeps of the factory building-turned-artists’ complex, leading police to believe that the threatening calls were an attempt at ‘swatting,’ a practice in which false reports of emergency situations are made with the intention of drawing a response from police or the media.
Blocks of Observer Highway, Newark Street and Willow Avenue were locked down during the event, and the several dozen individuals evacuated from the building were initially told that there was a gas leak. After police became suspicious that the perpetrator was monitoring their radio communications, all coordination of police activities was done in person at the scene.
On Tuesday, Hoboken Police Chief Ken Ferrante explained his department’s handling of the situation.
“Based on the dynamics and danger at hand during the event, and the level of the threats and the belief that the individual was counteracting strategies and information that was stated over the police radio,” said Ferrante, “I decided to have all communications done at the scene…and to not put any information out which could have harmed our residents and our law enforcement officers that were undertaking a dangerous task during a very tense scene.”
Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer stood by her police chief’s response to the threats. “I want to thank all the public safety officers who responded to the bomb threat in Hoboken last night,” said Zimmer. “The officers went above and beyond the call of duty to swiftly respond to the situation and ensure the safety of all residents.

SWAT sweeps turn up nothing

The saga began at around 7:35 p.m. on Saturday, April 11, when Hoboken police received the first of several calls from a man who claimed to have a bomb and threatened to blow up 66 Willow Ave.
66 Willow Ave. is one of several addresses associated with the Neumann Leathers complex, a collection of historic industrial buildings currently occupied by a variety of small businesses, industrial artisans, and artist studios.
According to Ferrante, Hoboken police immediately began an evacuation of the building. “At that point, it was determined [to] tell people we have a gas leak,” said Ferrante. “We don’t want to create a panic. We want them out quick and easy, and it was successful.”
The individual made multiple subsequent calls to Hoboken police over the next hour and a half, according to Ferrante, conveying further threats and demands, including claims that he had additional weapons and bombs.

“We wanted to make it as least interesting as possible.”—Ken Ferrante
Ferrante declined to provide the specific demands or the total number of calls received “for prosecution purposes.” However, he said the caller maintained that he was holed up inside in the Neumann Leathers building with specific assault weapons and machine guns, and that he was going to come out and engage with officers.
Three building sweeps were conducted by the Port Authority Emergency Services Unit, which is comparable to a SWAT team (Hoboken has not had a SWAT team since 2007, when the unit was disbanded after racy photographs taken on a mutual aid trip to Louisiana were revealed in a lawsuit).
However, these searches and a later sweep with bomb-sniffing dogs from the New Jersey Transit Police, Jersey City Police and the Hudson County Sheriff’s Department found no weapons or bombs.
Although he treated the threats as credible until the building was declared fully clear at 2:30 a.m., Ferrante had already begun to suspect that the caller was not in the building.
According to Ferrante, the “Thank you” call and later communications suggested that the caller was either watching the Neumann Leathers building from outside or monitoring the police scanner radio.
After it was disclosed over the scanner at around 9 p.m. that a negotiator would arrive in 20 minutes, Hoboken police stopped receiving calls from the perpetrator.
“It shows he was listening to the scanner and probably said, ‘they’re going to put a trace on this line. I’m not making any further calls,’” said Ferrante.

Thwarting a swatting

Ferrante elected not to provide information to the media on Saturday night. “If this is a swatting incident,” he said, “that’s what the person wants,” noting the television news coverage that was attracted by a swatting incident at a Clifton video game store on March 28.
Even if the threats were credible, Ferrante said publicizing the situation would have drawn curious onlookers, something he wanted to avoid.
“We wanted to make it as least interesting as possible,” said Ferrante.
Swatting attempts can also be directed at specific individuals. Earlier on that very Saturday, a Gloucester County state assemblyman who is sponsoring a bill to increase the penalties for swatting was himself the victim of a swatting attempt aimed at his home, according to an NJ.com report.
However, Ferrante said there was no indication that the Neumann Leathers incident was aimed at a specific occupant or occupants of the building. Proto Gallery was holding the opening reception for its new show, “Barely Imagined Beings” in the building on Saturday night, but Ferrante said the gallery owner told Hoboken detectives he didn’t have conflicts with anyone that might lead to a retaliatory swatting.
Neumann Leathers has been the object of political controversy in the past five years. The complex’s previous owner wanted to demolish the structure and build residential housing, and the City Council stepped in on behalf of the artisan tenants, declaring the building a Rehabilitation Area. However, Hoboken police have no evidence that Saturday’s incident was related to that history.
According to Ferrante, Hoboken police did interview one tenant who had been evicted from the building two weeks ago, but said they cleared him as a suspect.
Ferrante said that Hoboken police have been in contact with the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office, and through it the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force, since 11 p.m. on Saturday night in an effort to locate the caller.
Ferrante said these organizations were leading the search for the perpetrator, though he could not give details regarding their strategies or any possible leads.
“It may take a few days, it may take a couple weeks, but it is ongoing,” Ferrante said.

Man shot on Eighth Street

Last weekend was unusually busy for police in Hoboken, which typically has a low incidence of violent crime and crime overall (two weeks ago, the city announced that it had seen a 19 percent drop in violent crime in the first quarter of 2015 compared to the same period last year).
Early on Saturday morning, a Hoboken man was shot during the commission of a robbery, according to Captain Charles Campbell. The 35-year-old man was walking along Eighth Street between Grand and Adams streets at around 4 a.m. when he was approached by a male individual.
According to Campbell, the individual allegedly made a demand for money and was provided with a minimal amount of cash totaling less than $50. After the handoff, said Campbell, the individual allegedly shot the victim four times in the legs and fled the scene.
The victim returned to his nearby residence and called the police. He was transported to Jersey City Medical Center and released the following afternoon.
The suspect is described as a black male with a height between 5’ 7” and 5’ 11”, of slim build and wearing a dark hooded sweatshirt. Individuals with any information which could lead to the suspect’s apprehension are asked to call Det. Charles Kucz at 201-420-2132.

Intoxicated man rescued from river
Early Saturday morning, a 23-year-old Las Vegas resident was rescued from the Hudson River off Pier C on Hoboken’s waterfront after witnesses called 911 to say a man had jumped in the river.
Police told NJ.com that the man’s friend told them he was highly intoxicated.
According to the story, “After his rescue, [the man] told officers he jumped in because he was hot and thought he could climb back up, the police sergeant said.”
The man was found clinging to the pier’s support beams.
The man was “issued a citation for swimming in a river abutting the boundaries of a park,” according to the story.
The Hudson River is fully tidal where it passes Hoboken, leading to a strong and unpredictable current that has claimed several victims, sometimes even despite police being on the scene.
In recent years, the city has stepped up safety measures, adding warning signs along the riverwalk and furnishing all police cars with water rescue throw bags.

Carlo Davis may be reached at cdavis@hudsonreporter.com.

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