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NEW JERSEY – If you threaten a New Jersey police officer with the coronavirus, you're going to suffer for it, authorities say. Eight people in eight New Jersey towns may soon find out how tough that punishment will get (see list below).
Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal says his office has taken over prosecution of at least six cases and is filing upgraded charges against defendants who allegedly threatened police officers by spitting or coughing at them and claiming to have COVID-19. Patch also reported additional cases that were not on the state's list.
Grewal said his office is taking steps as a way of "letting our dedicated officers know that we have their backs as they work tirelessly to maintain public safety and health at this difficult time.”
“We take all assaults on police officers seriously, but it is especially heinous for someone to spit or cough at an officer in an attempt to infect or threaten to infect them with COVID-19,” Grewal added.
Indeed, officials reported that 288 members of New Jersey law enforcement have tested positive for the new coronavirus. Col. Patrick Callahan, acting superintendent of the State Police, said on Monday that 2,477 have self-quarantined. Read more: 288 In NJ Law Enforcement Positive For Coronavirus
“Hundreds of officers across New Jersey are already infected with the virus, which, in many cases, they likely contracted by protecting and serving the public while on the frontlines of the battle against COVID-19," Grewal said. "We have zero tolerance for anyone who uses the coronavirus as a weapon or instrument of terror against officers bravely performing their duties during this health crisis.”
Callahan noted that troopers and officers throughout the state do not have the ability to work from home or practice social distancing while doing their job.
"Law enforcement comes with many risks, none of which do the men and women who wear a badge shy away from,” said Callahan “For a defendant to intentionally expose an officer to COVID-19 is not just an assault on that officer, it’s an assault on their family members, fellow officers, and the general public. Anyone who uses the virus as a weapon against an officer will face a swift law enforcement response.”
On several cases, Veronica Allende, director of the Division of Criminal Justice, said her office has upgraded potential punishments by adding second-degree charges of making terroristic threats during a state of emergency.
Second-degree crimes carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000.
Patch has reported several similar cases that were not on the attorney general's list:
A 33-year-old man was arrested after spitting on a Gloucester Township police officer and claiming he had coronavirus, according to the state Attorney General's Office. Read more: Man Spit On Gloucester Cop, Said He Had Coronavirus: Authorities
A 28-year-old Wayne woman coughed on a police officer and said: "Oh, by the way, I have the coronavirus and so do you now" after she was arrested for driving-while-intoxicated, police said. Read more: Wayne Woman Coughs On Cop, Says She Has The Coronavirus: Police
In other cases, people have used the disease as a way to get out of trouble.
A Carteret man who State Police say was driving under the influence — and caused a crash on the Parkway — was also charged with falsely telling state troopers he had the coronavirus to try and avoid being taken into custody, said police. Read more: Man In Hazlet Parkway Crash Lied, Said He Had Coronavirus: PD
The following cases, which initially were charged by local police and county prosecutors, have been superseded for prosecution by the Division of Criminal Justice:
David Haley, 52, of Perth Amboy was charged after allegedly throwing bodily fluid at an officer and resisting arrest. On March 21, Haley allegedly spit on Perth Amboy officers who responded to a domestic violence call. He claimed to be infected with the coronavirus. He also is charged with simple assault/domestic violence.
Raymond Ricciardi, 51, of New Providence allegedly claimed he had the coronavirus and purposely coughed at police and medics.
Marina Bishara-Rhone, 25, of River Edge was involved in a domestic violence incident on March 14 and allegedly coughed directly on an officer, claiming she had the coronavirus and hoped he was now infected.
Kenneth Wideman Jr., 30, of Flemington allegedly yelled in the faces of police officers and actively coughed and spit at them on March 19, claiming to have the coronavirus. He refused police commands that he wear a mask.
Vanessa Shaaraway, 35 of Kearny was charged on March 27 when Belleville Police responded to a report of a shoplifter, and then encountered the suspect. Shaaraway allegedly fled and refused commands to stop. When she was caught by two officers, she purposefully coughed on them and claimed that she was infected with COVID-19, the OAG said.
Jennifer Burgess, 35, of Plainfield was charged during a motor vehicle stop on March 16 in Dunellen. Burgess allegedly attempted to elude police and deliberately coughed on an officer, telling the cop that she had the coronavirus.