YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: Jurors today acquitted two Bergen County Police officers of charges of trying to cover up a shooting following a high-speed chase from Paramus to Bogota nearly four years ago.
Officers Jeffrey Roberts ( above, right ) and Saheed Baksh ( left ) remained composed as friends and loved ones shouted, clapped, embraced and cried. Both held slight smiles until Roberts’ wife rushed to the bar, where he joined her in an embrace.
The hugging continued all around for a few minutes as the defense attorneys shook hands and exchanged congratulations.
Jurors acquitted the two officers of conspiracy to commit official misconduct, tampering with evidence and making false statements, among other counts.
Witnesses called during the trial included Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli, who said that Baksh pocketed shell casings after shooting twice at two fleeing suspects and Roberts helped him keep it from investigators.
New Jersey Attorney General guidelines require county prosecutor’s offices to review all police shootings to determine whether they are justified.
According to Molinelli, the two-hour gap between the shooting and when the officers finally reported it compromised the scene — and, as a result, the investigation.
Baksh’s lawyer, Louis Diluzio, portrayed the August 2010 scene as a mess of 20-plus officers from several jurisdictions, including local, county, and New Jersey State Police, plus the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office. Mass confusion plus a short time frame — and not an attempt to deceive — led to assumptions and delay in reporting an officer-involved shooting, he said.
Diluzio also said prosecutors had no evidence to prove Baksh removed the shell casings from the crime scene.
Roberts’ attorney, Charles Sciarra, said his client had neither motive nor a crime that had to be covered up in the first place. Sciarra also accused Molinelli’s office of being “up to something” by not delivering evidence that he needed to prepare his case until a few weeks before the trial.
Grand jurors in August 2012 indicted both officers after prosecutors presented videotape from various patrol car dashboard cameras and transcripts of interviews with several officers following the chase. No one was hit, but prosecutors said Baksch pocketed the shell casings after firing the shots, while Roberts did nothing to stop him.
The officers remained free on $10,000 bail each and suspended without pay.
Both insisted that Molinelli pursued the charges against them as part of a politically motivated “witch hunt” designed to “result in the dissolution of the Bergen County Police Department.”
All told, Roberts and Baksh were found not guilty on all seven counts.
Baksh was acquitted of conspiracy to commit misconduct, official misconduct, false swearing and deliberately removing the shell casings.
Roberts was found not guilty of the same first three counts.
YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli testified today that he seized an internal affairs investigation from the county Police Department after it became obvious that then-acting Chief Brian Higgins was nullifying disciplinary action against two officers in a shooting cover-up. READ MORE ….
STORY / PHOTOS: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter
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