Fourth EO homicide of 2018 coincides with crackdown on crime

Mayor Ted Green stressed that public safety was always a top priority and reactivating the Police Division’s Violent Crimes Task Force was what he considered a huge step in the right direction.

EAST ORANGE, NJ — East Orange suffered its fourth homicide of the year on Wednesday, Sept. 5, but police work by members of the East Orange Police Division resulted in the apprehension and arrest of a suspect that same day.

On Wednesday, Sept. 5, acting Essex County Prosecutor Theodore N. Stephens II and East Orange Police Chief Phyllis Bindi announced authorities were investigating an incident in which a male was fatally shot in East Orange that afternoon.

“At approximately 5:20 p.m., East Orange police officers responded to the 100 block of Evergreen Place on reports of a shooting in progress,” said Stephens on Wednesday, Sept. 5. “Arriving officers located an unresponsive male within a parked vehicle. The male, who has been identified as Archie C. Crooks, age 39, of Avenel, was pronounced dead at the scene at 6:12 p.m.”

According to Chief Assistant Prosecutor Thomas S. Fennelly of the Essex County Prosecutor’s Homicide Unit, EOPD officers managed to identify and arrest a suspect in the case.

“As East Orange officers were arriving at the shooting location, they observed a Nissan Altima leaving the area,” said Fennelly on Wednesday, Sept. 5. “An East Orange officer followed the vehicle a short distance into Newark, at which time the driver was arrested. The driver … has been identified as Dwayne Little-John, age 39, of Newark. Little-John has been charged with conspiracy to commit murder and eluding the police. Little-John has been lodged in the Essex County Correctional Facility, pending an appearance in the Essex County Central Judicial Processing Court.”

“The investigation is active and ongoing,” Fennelly said. “At this point in the investigation, authorities believe this is an isolated incident. No further information is available at this time.”

Crooks’ murder brings the number of homicides in East Orange this year to four, including East Orange STEM Academy teacher Kofi Owens, who was shot and killed on 16th Street on Friday, Aug. 3; Tarlok Singh, a 55-year-old employee of the Park Deli Grocery on North Park Street, who was killed Friday, Aug. 17; and Karamoko Fatiga, a delivery man who was shot and killed Monday, April 2, by an unidentified juvenile.

Mayor Ted Green and former public safety Director Sheilah Coley praised law enforcement officers for solving the Fatiga case.

“They pulled their resources together and did everything they had to do in terms of their intelligence,” said Green on Thursday, April 19, at a press conference announcing the 17-year-old’s arrest at EOPD Headquarters on South Munn Avenue. “They did an excellent job.”

After Coley resigned from the East Orange Public Safety Division on Tuesday, May 29, an extended search for her successor followed before Green announced he had hired former police Director Jose Cordero as the city’s new public safety consultant at another press conference at EOPD Headquarters on Thursday, July 19. At the time, the mayor said he was bringing Cordero back to East Orange to recapture the public confidence in the East Orange Public Safety Division that had surged to all-time highs when he was former Mayor Robert Bowser’s handpicked police director.

On Friday, Aug. 31, the reformation of the Police Division’s Violent Crimes Task Force, which had been disbanded in 2016, was announced. Originally established in 2005, it’s now back to target key areas of violent activity and other issues of community concern.

“Public safety is always my top priority and I am 100 percent in favor of doing whatever we need to do to keep our community safe,” said Green on Friday, Aug. 31. “Reactivating the task force is a huge step in the right direction.”

The task force was redeployed on Sunday, Aug. 26, and has already made a significant mark, making more than 20 arrests for offenses ranging from drug possession to possession with intent to distribute, eluding and receiving stolen property. Task force officers recently put an end to a robbery spree after stopping a stolen car from West Orange that was ultimately linked to several robberies in Montclair.

“The officers first noticed the car when it was circling City Hall Plaza in East Orange,” said Bindi on Friday, Aug. 31. “A pursuit ensued and ended in Orange, where the suspects were apprehended and charged accordingly.”

Bindi said the revived task force’s successful action regarding the Montclair robbery spree was a continuation of the EOPD’s recent success in reducing crime. She added that overall crime has decreased by 19 percent and violent crime has decreased by 25.4 percent, when compared to this time last year.

Cordero agreed that reductions in crime and being recognized as innovators of using technology and manpower to conduct data-driven community policing is a top priority. And he said reactivating the task force is definitely a step in the right direction.

“Every step in our Anti-Crime Plan is strategic and will make a major shift in the public’s perception of East Orange,” said Cordero on Friday, Aug. 31. “If people say they don’t feel safe, then we are going to use the manpower and resources needed to make sure they do. The message to people involved in violent criminal activity in East Orange is clear: Regardless of where you come from, we are coming after you!”

Anyone with information about the Crooks homicide is urged to call the Prosecutor’s Tips Line at 877-847-7432.