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- 08/21/17--09:21: _WATCH: Woman used k...
- 08/21/17--09:36: _N.J. man indicted a...
- 08/21/17--15:00: _Cops report finding...
- 08/21/17--16:46: _Motorcyclist killed...
- 08/22/17--04:51: _Man attacked, stabb...
- 08/22/17--04:59: _How N.J.'s most dan...
- 08/22/17--08:57: _Bar fight sparks le...
- 08/22/17--10:36: _Son slashes father ...
- 08/22/17--12:16: _Have you seen these...
- 08/22/17--12:54: _WATCH: Man swipes p...
- 08/22/17--17:39: _N.J.'s white-power ...
- 08/22/17--19:15: _Do you have a right...
- 08/23/17--05:31: _N.J. sailor among t...
- 08/23/17--04:34: _Can Glassboro nativ...
- 08/23/17--05:42: _N.J.'s top 30 high ...
- 08/23/17--11:07: _Girls soccer: Retur...
- 08/23/17--09:10: _Man missing after h...
- 08/23/17--11:02: _Dad admits killing ...
- 08/23/17--09:51: _High hopes, expecta...
- 08/23/17--10:00: _Boys soccer: Return...
- 08/21/17--09:36: N.J. man indicted after 'record-setting' fentanyl seizure, AG says
- 08/21/17--15:00: Cops report finding 286 bags of heroin during traffic stop
- 08/21/17--16:46: Motorcyclist killed in midday wreck
- 08/22/17--04:51: Man attacked, stabbed with machete in South Jersey
- 08/22/17--04:59: How N.J.'s most dangerous city is trying to stop police shootings
- 08/22/17--08:57: Bar fight sparks legal challenge to N.J. bail overhaul
- 08/22/17--10:36: Son slashes father with machete, cops say
- 08/22/17--12:16: Have you seen these men? Cops say they're wanted for theft
- 08/22/17--12:54: WATCH: Man swipes package from steps, cops say
- 08/22/17--17:39: N.J.'s white-power business mogul shutting down, report says
- 08/23/17--05:31: N.J. sailor among the missing following USS McCain collision
- 08/23/17--04:34: Can Glassboro native Corey Clement make the Eagles squad?
- 08/23/17--05:42: N.J.'s top 30 high school running backs of the last 30 years
- 08/23/17--09:10: Man missing after he was assaulted, cops say
- 08/23/17--11:02: Dad admits killing his 3-year-old son
- 08/23/17--09:51: High hopes, expectations flow as new Camden charter school opens
The incident was recorded this month in Camden. Watch video
CAMDEN -- Police are seeking the public's help to identify a woman authorities say was caught on surveillance video using a child to steal from a cash register of a Chinese restaurant earlier this month.
The theft occurred on the afternoon of Aug. 6 at a Chinese restaurant on the 1200 block of Chase Street, police said. The woman entered the store and then directed a child to take cash from behind the counter, police said. The woman and the child then left the restaurant.
Anyone with information is asked to call the Camden County Police Department tip line at (856) 757-7042.
Cops say Camden man had caches of deadly drug around the city.
TRENTON -- A Camden man was indicted Monday on drug charges after allegedly maintaining caches of the synthetic opioid fentanyl around the city, authorities said.
Yahmire Boardley, 23, was arrested in March after state and federal authorities discovered the "record-setting" supply of fentanyl, which is up to 50 times more potent than heroin, according to state Attorney General Christopher Porrino.
He was indicted by a state grand jury on charges of second-degree possession with intent to distribute and third-degree possession.
Authorities say state and federal police working on a month-long investigation found large quantities of the drug were being shipped from China to various locations around Camden.
Acting on multiple search warrants, authorities found 14 kilograms, or 31 pounds, of fentanyl, which has increasingly caused overdose deaths around New Jersey.
In a statement following the indictment, Porrino said the supply "could have yielded upward of five million lethal doses, enough to kill more than half the population of the state of New Jersey."
An attorney for Boardley could not immediately be reached for comment. A spokesman for the attorney general said Boardley was currently under pretrial monitoring after a judge denied prosecutors' request to detain him until trial.
The indictment was handed up to Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson in Mercer County. An arraignment in Camden County had not yet been scheduled.
The arrest occurred in Winslow.
Angela Callan, of the unit block of Winfield Drive in Chesilhurst, was arrested Wednesday after a motorist reported she was driving a black Lexus erratically on Route 73. She allegedly nearly struck a vehicle while pulling into the parking lot of a liquor store, police said. When officers arrived they spoke with Callan, who was still inside her vehicle in the parking lot.
Police said a small, blue bag of heroin inside of a clear sandwich bag was was seen in the passenger compartment of the vehicle. The search turned up the another 285 individually packaged bags of heroin, police said.
Callan was arrested and released with a summons for a court appearance.
The accident occurred in Winslow on Monday.
The wreck occurred just before 2 p.m. on the White Horse Pike, Route 30, near McDougal Road. Initial reports said the motorcycle was pinned under the car.
Augustine Acevedo was declared dead at the scene. No other injuries were reported. Authorities said the crash remains under investigation.Bill Duhart may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @bduhart. Find NJ.com on Facebook.
The attack took place Monday evening in Clementon
CLEMENTON -- Police are searching for the person responsible for a machete attack on Monday, according to a report.
A man in his 60s was stabbed multiple times around 6 p.m. Monday, according to 6abc.com.
The man was taken to an area hospital but his condition was not disclosed, the report said.
This chief says that just because a shooting is justifiable doesn't mean it's the only option. Watch video
CAMDEN -- It was the middle of the night when Camden County Police Lt. Kevin Lutz got a text from one of the officers he trained.
It wasn't an emergency. The officer just texted because he was excited: He and another cop had talked an emotionally disturbed woman into dropping a knife she was wielding, and got her help.
"He said, 'it was textbook," Lutz recalled. "You would have been proud.'"
Lutz was proud. Not just because the officers, as they're trained to, found other options to deadly force when facing an armed, unstable individual. But also because they take pride in the successes they have in doing so.
"Five or 10 years ago, you'd maybe be ridiculed," Lutz said of the officers' decision to take a slow, careful approach.
"That's what we're most proud of: we've been able to change the culture," he said.
Over the last three years, viral videos of police shootings, especially of black men or teens, have driven a national dialogue on deadly force.
Courts have found that deadly force is justified if a reasonable officer feels in danger or believes others to be, but that didn't stop a public outcry. Amid criticism that cops are trigger-happy, some law enforcement leaders have doubled down, defending the way they've always done things.
But the Camden County Police Department says they're doing the opposite. They've worked with experts and chiefs from across the country to figure out how they can handle those tense situations differently. Now, Camden's cops are learning to find other options to pulling the trigger.
A time for change
"We're in a watershed moment in American policing," Camden Chief J. Scott Thomson said in an interview this spring. "Partly with some disturbing videos coming out, we were in a state nationally where even people who generally support police were asking questions."
It's time for reflection and change, he said, not "circling the wagons."
As board president of the progressive Police Executive Research Forum, Thomson is passionate about PERF's goal to reduce what the group has coined "lawful but awful" shootings. Those are the ones that trigger the most outrage when a video goes viral -- like a shooting of a mentally ill or unarmed person.
The group feels that it is often too dangerous to try to de-escalate when facing a gunman, so they're focusing on the 300 to 400 police shootings each year that involve subjects who are either unarmed or armed with a weapon other than a firearm.
"There's an opportunity for much better results other than deadly force," Thomson said. "There's a tactic you can employ to get the officer other options, as opposed to having yourself in a situation where the only option is deadly force."
In Camden, officers are now trained that instead of shooting a mentally ill person with a knife -- which would be legally justified if the officer felt at risk of injury -- they should consider backing off, taking cover, or doing anything else that will buy them the time to talk the person into dropping the knife.
Department numbers do show that Camden cops are overwhelmingly holding their fire when faced with people who have weapons other than guns.
Since the Camden County Police Department took over policing from the city force May 1, 2013, officers have killed two people who fired first and one man with who pointed a replica gun, police said.
That's not a big departure from the number of fatal police shootings in four comparable cities: Trenton, Atlantic City and Wilmington, Delaware.
Thomson runs his department according to PERF's "Guiding Principles on Use of Force" -- first of which is the sanctity of human life -- and with its new use of force training, which Lutz helped draft last year.
Thomson has been working to change the culture department -- trying to get officers to see themselves as 'ethical protectors' instead of enforcers -- since not long after the county force took over in 2013.
Part of it is getting new recruits as well as seasoned veterans to forget any notion that a cop should be an unyielding, tough guy who barks orders and does not retreat, said Sgt. Raphael Thornton, a training supervisor.
"If there's a rapidly unfolding situation, if they know they're supported in slowing down their approach, in not rushing in, that it's not cowardice to back up, then there isn't that internal, cultural pressure to draw their weapon," Thornton said.
The thinking used to be that it was best to resolve most situations quickly, but Thornton said it's often safer not to.
"In a situation where you have to act rapidly -- chasing a robbery suspect -- we're letting them know, 'you can slow things down, wait for backup, you don't have to go it alone," he said.
So how do you change the culture? Thornton said it has to be "top down from the chief and you have to put the best trainers in charge."
Thomson talks to the new recruits before they start use of force training. He said they also find the officers that other cops look up to the most, and make sure they're acting as mentors to reinforce the guardian mindset.
Thomson and other PERF chiefs are replacing several traditional tenets of use-of-force training that they feel limit officers' range of responses, instead of encouraging options and de-escalation.
First is the use of force continuum, used to teach recruits which level of force should be used depending on a suspect's behavior and the threat of injury or death.
Then there's the so-called 21-foot rule, which says that a person with a knife within that distance can stab you before you can shoot.
Thornton said the department isn't throwing out the concept, but don't want officers to think of it like a kill zone.
"We endorse 21 feet. We want our officers to keep their distance," Thornton said. "If he comes towards you, you back up."
Thornton said the rule and the continuum promote the old mindset: "We're going to bring a gun and give loud commands and if they cross that line, we can shoot."
In November 2015, the Camden County Police Department posted a video of a dangerous situation that played out very differently as a result of the department's training.
It shows a man scaring people in a restaurant with a knife, and then walking away from officers, ignoring their calls for him to drop the weapon. If the officers surrounding him had stood their ground, his steps would have put him dangerously close to officers and he could have been shot.
Instead, they formed a kind of moving perimeter and walked several blocks with him. He eventually dropped the knife and was taken into custody.
"We enveloped him with officers, we protected the public, and we were willing to walk with him as far as he wanted to walk that night," Thomson wrote of the situation in a PERF report on de-escalation.
Camden officers are taught to keep the PERF formula "distance + cover = time" in mind when responding to situations that can be de-escalated. It means that they should stay back and take cover behind objects to keep safe, which buys them the time to de-escalate.
PERF teaches that in the case of an emotionally disturbed person, talking -- even if it's about a favorite NFL team -- can calm things down and give time for backup or an ambulance to arrive.
"What we're focusing on is the emotionally disturbed person who's only a danger to himself. Can we slow things down, create some space, maybe put a car between you," Thornton said.
Over 200 law enforcement officers from around the country got to see one such scenario acted out July 13 at Camden County College at a presentation on the PERF use-of-force training Camden has piloted.
Det. Cabria Davis played an unstable veteran and Officers Steven Marakowski and Chris Sarlo talked her into dropping her knife, while keeping their distance and taking cover.
Is it working?
Asked if he thinks Camden's training is reducing violent encounters between officers and civilians, Colandus "Kelly" Francis, former president of the NAACP in Camden, is quick to point out that there's no definitive way to prove it.
He sees the talk of new training as "spin" and doesn't think it will change anything.
But police say it's working, pointing to the decline in excessive force complaints since the department started its Ethical Protector program in 2014.
As far as firing their guns, Camden County police have fired on suspects five times in the roughly four years they've been patrolling Camden. During that time they've responded to over 7,800 calls for people with guns, Thomson said.
In the most recent incident, in January, Officer David Stinsman killed Jose Antonio Fernandez-Ventura, 38, after watching him shoot his wife in the throat while she held a baby, according to police.
Francis thinks the solution lies in the force's make up, not its training. He believes if it consisted of Camden residents, they would care more about their fellow residents and be less likely to harm them.
"They'd be more sensitive and understanding," he said. "They would live among the people and know who they are."
Community organizer N'Namdee Nelson said police need to be working consistently to get to know residents as a way to reduce the number of incidents involving the use of force.
The community has to meet them halfway, he added. "We all have work to do."
Nelson said he was glad to hear that Camden police are being trained to hold their fire if at all possible, even if other issues in the police-resident relationship remain.
"Our police officers should always be shooting as a last option," he said.
Class-action lawsuit asks federal judge to put the brakes on Jersey's new criminal justice system, which could be a national model.
CAMDEN -- New Jersey's bail system overhaul, held up as a national model by criminal justice reform advocates and derided by bail bondsmen, faces a constitutional challenge as a federal judge on Tuesday weighs arguments in a lawsuit filed against the state.
In January, New Jersey virtually eliminated cash bail, replacing it in most cases with an arrangement where judges, guided by a risk assessment algorithm, can order defendants locked up until trial or subjected to varying degrees of monitoring.
The move brought the Garden State's justice system under the national spotlight as other states consider similar changes.
Advocates say a cash bail system is unfair because it keeps low-level defendants locked up because they cannot afford meager bail amounts while dangerous criminals with means go free. The new system takes financial resources out of the equation.
But the bail bonds industry, which has fought efforts to eliminate cash bail across the country, has waged a public battle against the changes here in New Jersey, highlighting cases where defendants accused of sex crimes and gun offenses have been released under the new system only to be arrested on new charges.
It has also funded legal challenges, including the case on the docket in U.S. District Court in Camden on Tuesday, which started with a bar fight over the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys.
A Camden County man, Brittan Holland, was arrested on aggravated assault charges after he and his father allegedly left two men bloodied in a parking lot following an argument over the football teams outside Joe's Tavern in Sicklerville, according to local police.
He was later ordered to wear a GPS monitoring bracelet while awaiting trial and submit to weekly check-ins with the court.
Lexington National Insurance Corporation, a Maryland-based bail underwriting company that does business across the country, took up Holland's case, hiring former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement to file a class-action lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of refusing defendants the opportunity to post bail.
The suit argues New Jersey's new system violates the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which protects against excessive bail amounts. It asks the judge to roll back some of the changes implemented under the new system, including allowing more mid-level defendants, like Holland, to post bail.
In court papers, lawyers for the state argue such a move would "return New Jersey to the discarded, discriminatory system that allowed dangerous defendants charged with serious, violent crimes to evade pretrial detention even when they posed a manifest danger to the community."
Oral arguments in the case are scheduled for Tuesday afternoon in front of Judge Jerome B. Simandle.
The incident occurred in Lindenwold.
LINDENWOLD -- A 29-year-old man has been arrested and charged with attempted murder for allegedly hacking his father multiple times with a machete sword, authorities said.
James Rodgers was arrested shortly after police arrived at a residence on Pine Grove Avenue at 5:47 p.m. Monday.
Officers found his 61-year-old father suffering from multiple slash wounds to his head and body. The injuries were a result of allegedly being struck by Rodgers multiple times with a machete, police said. The father was airlifted to Cooper University Hospital in Camden. His condition was not immediately reported.
Rodgers was held at the Camden County jail pending a court hearing. Details of what sparked the conflict were also not immediately reported.
The alleged thefts were in Berlin Township
BERLIN TWP. -- Police here released photos Tuesday of several men accused of shoplifting from the Walmart here.
A man in red T-shirt is wanted for allegedly stealing items on Aug. 14.
In another incident, a man in a white T-shirt is accused of removing a HP laptop from the electronic department and fleeing out the exit door without paying. Another man in a black hoodie is accused of being part of that heist on Aug. 05.
Anyone with information about any of the suspects are asked to contact police at 856-767-5878 Ext. 214 or 235.Bill Duhart may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @bduhart. Find NJ.com on Facebook.
The incident occurred this month in Voorhees.
VOORHEES -- Video of a man swiping a package from a doorstep here was posted Tuesday on a police Facebook page in an effort to use social media to help solve a crime.
The incident occurred on the 600 block of Burnt Mill Road on Aug. 11, shortly before 8:30 p.m.
Anyone who can identify the man is urged to call police at 856-627-5858, Ext. 1129.Bill Duhart may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @bduhart. Find NJ.com on Facebook.
The company is leading purveyor of white supremacist merchandise.
CHERRY HILL -- A man who claims to be one of the largest distributors of white-supremacist merchandise has said he plans to shut down his business, a published report said.
The business, Micetrap Distribution, is registered to Steven Wiegand, 45. Records show he grew up in Pennsauken, started his business in Maple Shade, and now lives on a sidestreet off of Route 70 in Cherry Hill.
Wiegand told Philly.com he is shutting down his business "in hope of finding spiritual peace."
He's been hawking hate since the late 1990s, says Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism.
"This is white supremacist propaganda," he said of Micetrap and similar sites. "Whether we're talking about the music or the clothing or the accessories, this is hate in a very pure form. It's anti-Semitism, it's anti-black hate, it's anti-immigrant. It helps glue these people together."
Wiegand insists he's not a racists and was just running a business.
Staff reporter Rebecca Everett contributed to this report.Bill Duhart may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @bduhart. Find NJ.com on Facebook.
Class-action suit asks federal judge to roll back sweeping changes to Jersey's justice system.
CAMDEN -- In the first six months after New Jersey overhauled its criminal justice system in January, court officials say, just 17 defendants out of thousands of cases were given the option of posting bail while awaiting trial.
The low figure was no accident. The changes -- championed by state officials including Gov. Chris Christie, the head of the state Supreme Court and a coalition of civil liberties groups -- were meant to largely replace cash bail with an arrangement where judges, guided by a risk assessment algorithm, could order defendants locked up or subjected to varying degrees of monitoring.
But a federal class-action lawsuit sparked by the case of a Camden County man ordered to wear a GPS ankle bracelet after a bar fight is seeking to roll back some of those sweeping changes, arguing the right to post bail is enshrined in the Eight Amendment to the federal constitution.
Oral arguments in the case were held Tuesday at U.S. District Court in Camden.
Funded by players in the bail bonds industry, which has seen its business model threatened by the overhaul, the suit asks the judge to put the brakes on New Jersey's move away from cash bail.
The case is being watched across the country as other states debate similar reforms. The New York Times reported this week that bail bonds groups had mounted legal challenges to bail system changes in Maryland, Texas and California, among other jurisdictions.
Lawyers for the state Attorney General's Office on Tuesday asked Judge Jerome B. Simandle to toss the suit, arguing New Jersey's new system is far fairer because it prevents poor people from being locked up because they can't afford bail while allowing more dangerous defendants to be held or at least monitored until trial.
Under the new rules, prosecutors can ask a judge to lock someone up, sparking an assessment process that weighs a defendant's risk of flight or danger to the community. Instead of bail in most cases, a judge can order a defendant jailed or released subject to certain conditions, like electronic monitoring.
New Jersey's system is modeled on similar set-ups in the federal court system and in Washington, D.C. But Paul Clement, a former U.S. solicitor general hired by the bail bonds company Lexington National Insurance Corporation, told the judge the Garden State went much further than those systems, calling it "the only jurisdiction that has definitively put bail behind this emergency glass."
"What that does, in a nutshell, is it takes something that is constitutionally protected as a liberty-preserving option and turns it into an option of last resort," Clement said, calling the elimination of bail a "blatant violation" of the constitution.
Assistant Attorney General Stuart Feinblatt argued the state and federal constitutions don't guarantee access to cash bail, but merely protect defendants against courts issuing excessively high bail amounts.
The dispute over the bail overhaul's constitutionality is a complex legal one, but it started with a fight between football fans. According to court records Brittan Holland and his father, Christopher Hoffman, were accused of beating two other men outside a Camden County bar after an argument over the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys.
Holland was charged with second-degree aggravated assault as a result of the fight and a risk assessment under the new system gave him a moderate ranking, citing a previous conviction for simple assault and other factors.
A judge ordered him to wear the ankle bracelet and submit to weekly check-ins with court staff. His lawsuit argues cash bail should have been an option "on an equal footing with other release conditions."
Tuesday's hearing concerned the plaintiffs' request for an injunction which, if granted, could have far-reaching implications for criminal cases across the state.
The judge is expected to rule on the matter in the next three weeks.
Kennth Smith, 22, of Cherry Hill works in radar technology for the Navy
CHERRY HILL -- A 22-year-old sailor from Cherry Hill is among 10 missing following a collision on Monday between the USS McCain and oil tanker off the coast of Singapore.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Kenneth Smith has not been accounted for, his mother April Brandon of Michigan said on Facebook.
Born in Novi, Mich., Smith moved to Norfolk, Va. and later to Cherry Hill when his father was transferred to Philadelphia. Smith's father Darryl Smith is a Naval officer. His grandfather also served in the Navy.
Kenneth Smith attended Cherry Hill High School East, according to Philly.com.
Smith works in radar technology aboard the McCain and writes science fiction in his spare time, Brandon told NBCPhiladelphia.com.
On Tuesday, Navy divers searching a flooded compartment of the USS John S. McCain found remains of some of the 10 sailors missing in a collision between the warship and an oil tanker, the U.S. Pacific Fleet commander said as he promised a full investigation.
Adm. Scott Swift also said at a news conference in Singapore, where the McCain is now docked, that Malaysian officials had found one body, but it had yet to be identified and it was unknown whether it was a crew member.
The collision before dawn on Monday near Singapore tore a gaping hole in the McCain's rear hull and flooded adjacent compartments including crew berths and machinery and communication rooms. Five sailors were injured.
"The divers were able to locate some remains in those sealed compartments during their search today," Swift said, adding that it was "premature to say how many and what the status of recovery of those bodies is."
"We will continue the search and rescue operations until the probability of discovering sailors is exhausted," Swift said.
He would not say where in the destroyer the bodies were found.
It was the second major collision in two months involving the Pacific-based 7th Fleet, and the Navy has ordered a broad investigation into its performance and readiness. Seven sailors died in June when the USS Fitzgerald and a container ship collided in waters off Japan. There were two lesser-known incidents in the first half of the year. In January, the USS Antietam guided missile cruiser ran aground near Yokosuka base, the home port of the 7th Fleet, and in May another cruiser, the USS Lake Champlain from the Navy's 3rd Fleet, had a minor collision with a South Korean fishing boat.
The Associated Press contributed to this report
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Police said Peter Forte was last seen Friday after he was assaulted in Blackwood.
GLOUCESTER TWP -- Police are searching for a man who went missing late last week after he was assaulted on the Black Horse Pike.
Peter Forte, 61, was last seen around 10 a.m. Friday near Blackwood Liquors, according to Gloucester Township Police. Prior to that, he was assaulted near the Rite Aid in Blackwood, police said.
Police describe Forte as a white man standing around 5-foot-8 and weighing about 150 pounds. He may have injuries to his face and head as a result of the assault, and was last seen wearing a light blue T-shirt and dark gray shorts, police said.
Forte is often near Blackwood Lake and the Gloucester Township Health and Fitness Trail.
Anyone with information about Forte and his whereabouts is asked to call police at 856-228-4500.
David "D.J." Creato pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the 2015 death of his 3-year-old son.
CAMDEN -- The father accused of killing his toddler son has pleaded guilty to aggravated manslaughter weeks before a second trial was set to begin, authorities said.
David "D.J." Creato Jr., of Haddon Township, entered the plea Wednesday morning in the death of his 3-year-old son Brandon Creato at Camden County Superior Court, according to the Camden County Prosecutor's Office.
Creato was sentenced to 10 years in jail and will be eligible for parole in eight-and-a-half years, authorities said.
Brandon was found dead in 2015 in a Cooper River Park creek near his father's home. He was wearing pajamas and socks, and Creato's attorneys argued that Brandon had left the home overnight and wandered down to the creek on his own.
The prosecutor's office argued that 24-year-old Creato had killed the boy because his girlfriend did not like that Creato was a father, and had given him an ultimatum, telling him to pick her or his son.
On Wednesday, Creato stated under oath that he "recklessly caused his son's death under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life by depriving Brendan of oxygen," according to the prosecutor's office.
The initial trial bringing a murder charge against Creato ended with a deadlocked jury in late May. A new trial had been scheduled to begin next month.
A sentencing for Creato will take place September 29.
The Mastery Cramer Hill Elementary School opened in Camden on Wednesday.
CAMDEN -- It was the first day of school Wednesday at Mastery Cramer Hill Elementary School and the book bags and children's outfits weren't the only things that were brand-spanking new.
Officials were also taking the wraps off the $34 million, 80,000-square-foot building at East State Street and River Avenue, opening its doors for the first time to wide-eyed students and hovering parents.
"I'm looking forward to new grades, new students and new friends," said Amirah Jackson, a 6th-grader at the K-8 school.
"We're going to have a lot of fun," a classmate of Amarah's, Jaquan Foster, chimed in. "We have a lot of stuff to cherish."
Officials here say the charter school is an example of a partnership between the city school district and the private company that operates the facility. Charter schools are publicly funded but privately administered. The schools are also required to operate in their own buildings.
"We're excited," said Joe Ferguson, the chief operating officer of Mastery, standing in front of the main entrance of the school. "We'll have over 700 kids who will be in this building when the kindergarten arrives in a few weeks. We're ready."
Ferguson said he's especially excited about the building design and the amount of natural light in the classrooms.
"It's in the heart of the community we serve," Ferguson said. "The interior spaces are really well lit. You can see through windows. It's a greatly lit building. We have a computer lab, gym, art room, music. All the things you'd want in a school are in this building."
Ferguson and Meredith Howell-Turner, the school principal, were equally excited about the new building and a staff of teachers and counselors they think are a perfect fit for this inner-city community of rowhomes and industrial lots less than 2 miles from downtown Camden.
Jasmine Pearson is a first-grade teacher here. She stood outside of her classroom Tuesday and reflected on her journey from growing up and graduating from Camden schools to now entering her second year as a teacher with Mastery.
"I understand the culture and some of the setbacks and hardships just trying to go to school," Pearson said. "I know what is was like growing up. I had a lot of really good teachers that helped me along the way, which gave me a since of empowerment and really helped me out, and I'm hoping to be that same type of teacher for my students."
Pearson mentioned Stephanie Shanklin, Ed.D, as one of the mentors she had in school growing up. Shaklin is still helping to guide her. She's the family and community engagement manager here.
"It is amazing to see your students that entrusted you with their dreams and to see them come true," Shanklin said. "That's way it is very important to me to stay in the city."
Ferguson said the $34 million cost to construct the school was publicly financed but Mastery is responsible for the bond payment. Mastery operates 6 schools in Camden and 19 in Philadelphia.Bill Duhart may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @bduhart. Find NJ.com on Facebook.
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