Teens face kidnapping, sexual assault charges

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:46

    WEST MILFORD-For a 15-year-old local girl, a promised ride home after school turned into hours of horror as she was allegedly kidnapped and sexually assaulted by two youths, one a fellow student and one a former student, at West Milford High School. According to a newspaper report in the Record of Hackensack, the boys drove the girl to a secluded spot on the night of Dec. 15, threatening to kill her if she didn't have sex with them. If convicted as juveniles in the family court system, the alleged attackers could face a maximum of four years in a juvenile facility according to Passaic County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Michael O'Shea. He said the prosecutor's office has submitted a motion to the family court asking that the pair be tried as adults. That motion is scheduled for a March 2 hearing. If convicted as adults, the teenage boys face a possible 25 years in prison with a requirement that they serve a minimum of 85 percent of their sentence, said O'Shea. That would mean at least 21 years in state prison before becoming eligible for parole. Currently both boys are under house arrest, having been released to parental custody by the court. They are forbidden to leave their homes without court permission. The investigation was made more difficult because the girl failed to report the Dec. 15 incident until Dec. 28, thus precluding obtaining forensic evidence, said Police Chief James R. Dykstra. Police investigated and arrested the two boys on Jan. 3. Despite the arrests, police failed to disclose the attack for several weeks, then released the information piecemeal. This newspaper learned of the incident from a third party. When contacted, Dykstra said the lack of notification was a procedural oversight by his department that wouldn't occur again. Disclosure ignored Asked why details of the crime were not disclosed within 24 hours as required by the Open Public Records Act, Chief Dykstra said "In this case we feel the interests of the victim and gathering information for prosecution overrode the press's need for immediate notification. "Under normal conditions the investigation would have been conducted and, after completion an arrest made, and the press would have been notified. "The Christmas vacation break was ending and children were returning to school in January. "Had the arrests been publicized it may have impaired the police department's ability to gain cooperative information for a successful prosecution," Dykstra said. Asked where the victim was taken and attacked, Chief Dykstra was vague, only saying "a wooded area, property owned by Newark Watershed." That, of course encompasses a lot of territory as officials say about a third of this 80-square-mile township is owned by the Newark Watershed Authority. Not a school matter Although the victim was taken from school property by a classmate and former classmate: "I don't consider this a school matter," said Robert Gilmartin, West Milford's superintendent of schools. "Our involvement is to provide the support and cooperation specified under the interagency agreement" between our departments. While Gilmartin said one of the boys had dropped out of school in December, police said the two 17-year-olds were arrested before returning to classes on Jan. 3. The press release to selected media was dated Jan. 24, three weeks after the arrests. Then, on Jan. 27, another press release was sent out describing a second incident against the male passenger in the vehicle used for the kidnapping and sexual attack. Again, this newspaper failed to be included in the distribution list the chief admitted, again citing procedural oversights on the part of police staffers. That release disclosed additional charges were being brought against the alleged second attacker for a separate incident in which he stalked a 16-year-old West Milford High student from the start of the school year into December, and allegedly had sexual contact with the teen girl, touching her private parts, according to O'Shea. Breaking the silence "I believe that breaking the silence about these sorts of crimes is the first step to removing the sense of shame that so many victims unfairly feel. We're not that far away from a time when a victim of rape would be shunned by her husband, and shunned by society as a whole for being the victim of a sexual assault," says CarlLa Horton, a local resident and executive director of the Northern Westchester Shelter, a haven for victims of domestic violence. "We want to support the victims among us and hold the perpetrators accountable. We want to move forward to prevent such crimes in the future," Horton stressed. "We have got to stop minimizing the importance of these crimes. A woman has the right to walk down the street at 3 a.m. and wear a skimpy dress if she wants. We should be safe in our own homes and everywhere in the community." Horton and Liz Walsh-Wong have scheduled a seminar tomorrow for parents and teens on the issue of teen rape and dating abuse at the West Milford Police Athletic League building, Cahill Cross and Ridge Roads at 10:30 A.M. "My involvement is really on a volunteer basis," said Walsh-Wong. "I have a daughter who is 10 and will be going into the middle school in September, 2006, and I just think it's important for young people to know they can have someone to talk to and a place to go if they've been hurt, or where they can go to understand what has happened to them. "I'm the treasurer of the West Milford P.A.L. Being in that position, I'm hoping to initiate some type of place where girls can go to for extracurricular activities outside school, maybe at the P.A.L., where they can have educational seminars and recreational activities. Takes chief at his word County Prosecutor James F. Avigliano reportedly said: "Because this is a judgment call by the chief of police, we have to take him at his word," he said. "He explained it to the people in my office, and they felt that his assurances were sufficient." Avigliano also reportedly said he would use the occasion to reemphasize to the county's police chiefs what their obligations are in releasing information about crimes. The state's Open Public Records Act requires law enforcement agencies to release basic information about a crime as soon as practical - generally considered to be within 24 hours according to the prosecutor's office. The West Milford Messenger asked Chief Dykstra about the police department's policy: "This incident demonstrates that not all crimes that occur in the town are being reported in a timely manner, if at all. Will that policy change as a result of this incident?" He would only reply that, "What we are doing is reviewing our policy concerning press releases to make sure that, whenever possible, press releases are sent out in a timely manner."