Arrest made in Maplewood sexual assault

Muhammad Sharif

MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Acting Essex County Prosecutor Theodore N. Stephens II and Maplewood Police Chief Jim DeVaul announced Oct. 21 that authorities have arrested a suspect in connection with the sexual assault and home invasion that occurred in Maplewood on Tuesday, Oct. 16. After an extensive investigation, detectives from the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office and the Maplewood Police Department have charged Muhammad Sharif, 40, of Irvington, with aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault and burglary. Sharif was taken into custody Saturday, Oct. 20.

At approximately 8 p.m. on Oct. 16, DeVaul released a statement saying that there would be increased police presence in Maplewood as part of an “active criminal investigation,” but did not elaborate. The following morning, the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office released a statement saying that Oct. 16 an unknown man had forced his way into a Maplewood woman’s home and sexually assaulted her.

According to the second release, “the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office Special Victims Unit and the Maplewood Police Department are investigating a home invasion, sexual assault of a young woman.”

According to reports, the woman first encountered the man at approximately 11:30 a.m. on Oct. 16. The preliminary investigation indicated that he followed her home, forced his way into her house and sexually assaulted her. ECPO spokeswoman Katherine Carter told the News-Record that law enforcement is not yet releasing information about where, specifically, in Maplewood the assault occurred.

The victim was transported to an area hospital, where she was treated and released.

Following Sharif’s arrest, the Essex County prosecutor commended the efforts of the members of his office’s Special Victims Unit and Major Crimes Unit as well as detectives from the Maplewood Police Department.

“Personnel from both agencies worked tirelessly during this joint investigation and their efforts resulted in the swift arrest of the suspect,” Stephens said.

Sharif has been remanded to the Essex County Correctional Facility in Newark pending an appearance in the Essex County Central Judicial Processing Court. The investigation is continuing at this time. Anyone with information is asked to call the Prosecutor’s Tips Line at 877-847-7432.

The charges against this defendant are merely accusations. He is presumed innocent unless or until proved guilty in a court of law.

In the wake of the sexual assault, Maplewood police had additional personnel on the streets. In addition to Maplewood having a stepped-up police presence throughout the town, Maplewood’s police chief also advised residents to remain vigilant.

“Residents are asked to call 9-1-1 to report any suspicious persons, vehicles or activity,” DeVaul said. “Residents should be aware of their surroundings, especially if walking alone, and not provide personal information to strangers. Do not open your door to strangers; talk through an open window if you have to. Call 9-1-1 immediately if possibly being followed. Parents are asked to have conversations with their children on safety and instruct them to call 9-1-1 first in the event of an emergency.”

On Oct. 17, in response to news of the sexual assault, the South Orange-Maplewood School District released a statement advising residents of safety tips for them and their children.

“The young woman is not an SOMSD student, but our thoughts go out to her as she heals from this traumatic event,” the district statement read. “We wanted to bring this to your attention so that you can talk to your children about safety protocols, especially if they walk to or from school. Safety tips include: walk to and from school or town as part of a group, rather than alone; be aware of your surroundings; don’t talk to strangers or give personal information out to anyone you don’t know; if you feel you are being followed, go to a public place or call 9-1-1; if you see something suspicious, call 9-1-1; and don’t be embarrassed to ask for help.”