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Central Jersey News from the Times of Trenton

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    See which games you should keep an eye on this week.

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    Ed Forchion has been locked up on pre-trial detention since March of last year

    A judge presiding over Edward "NJ Weedman" Forchion's witness tampering case denied the marijuana activist's request to be released from the Mercer County Jail while he waits for his new trial to start.

    Forchion was ordered detained in March 2017 in order to ensure safety to witnesses or informants after he was indicted in the witness tampering case connected to his 2016 marijuana possession arrest.

    His latest bid for release comes after he was found not guilty on one count of witness tampering, but faced a hung jury on the second count in November 2017.

    Shortly after the jury's ruling, Forchion filed a motion to be released from the Mercer County Correction Center, pending further trial proceedings. He claims the state has failed to prove with clear evidence that he should be detained after the jury found him not guilty of second-degree witness tampering.

    On Friday night, Forchion learned his request had been denied.

    "The centuries-old doctrine of innocent until proven guilty doesn't exist anymore," Forchion told NJ Advance Media in call from the jail, in Hopewell Township.

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    Court documents in the case show that Judge Anthony Massi struck down the request, citing witness testimony from Forchion's trial that proves "no amount of monetary bail or non-monetary conditions ... assure the safety of others."

    In his request, Forchion argued that he could be released with conditions like reporting to the court on a weekly basis.

    At his initial detention hearing, Judge Peter Warshaw ruled to detain Forchion, saying he was concerned that he simply wouldn't comply with any conditions he was given.

    Warshaw cited a video Forchion posted on social media where he says he'd ignore the judge's ruling not to identify the confidential informant involved in his 2016 marijuana raid. 

    "I am convinced, absolutely convinced, that this defendant will have no regard for anything," Warshaw said in March 2017. "He will do what suits him, he will do what he wants. He will rationalize it later." 

    Judge Massi reinforced those concerns last week, and stated that Forchion's recent request was "unsupported and based upon a misunderstanding of the rationale for the original detention decision," the documents show. 

    "The prosecution is simply getting a year of incarceration from me without conviction," Forchion told NJ Advance Media. "I have never been a danger."

    Prosecutors have not yet set a date to try Forchion on his remaining charge of witness tampering.

    - Reporter Kevin Shea contributed to this report.

    Paige Gross may be reached at pgross@njadvancemedia.comFollow her on Twitter @By_paigegross. Find on Facebook. 

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    The hotel has been shut down since early last October

    The city's only downtown hotel, shuttered by the state in October, was recently labeled an "unsafe structure" by the city of Trenton, officials said.

    Issues with the Lafayette Park Hotel and Suites' sprinkler system pipes led to the unsafe designation by Trenton's inspections officials in the first week of January, state and city officials said recently.

    The 197-room hotel on West Lafayette Street remains closed by the state's Division of Fire Safety.

    Hotel manager Mashkoor Ahmad said Monday work continues on rehabbing the hotel. "We are almost there," he pledged.

    State inspectors closed the hotel on the morning of Oct. 6 for several violations, including blocked exits, broken panic hardware on doors, an improperly installed temporary boiler and work being done without permits.

    In early December, fire safety inspectors went to the hotel to investigate a complaint that people were living in rooms, state official said.

    Nobody was living in the hotel, but inspectors did find three, first-floor exit doors that were either chained or screwed shut with metal straps, which earned the hotel more violations and penalties.

    The hotel on West Lafayette Street was also shuttered by fire inspectors for three days in June last year.

    The hotel was known as the Wyndham Garden Trenton until April 2017, when it was rebranded under the current name.

    Kevin Shea may be reached at Follow him on Twitter@kevintshea. Find on Facebook.

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    Volunteers spruced up a school in Trenton on Monday

    What was supposed to be a day off became a day on for volunteers at the Gregory School in Trenton who participated in an MLK Day of Service.

    MLK Day is a federal holiday marking the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. and observed on the third Monday of January, and this year it falls on the slain civil rights leader's actual birthday - January 15.

    At 9 a.m. Monday, volunteers from the corporate, religious and school communities began painting bathrooms, doing general cleaning and making things like indoor hopscotch mats and snowman kits.

    Principal Michael Rosenberg said the idea took hold when personnel from the school reached out several months ago and formed a partnership with Jersey Cares. 

    N.J. civil rights leader, friend of MLK, guest of U.S. presidents dies at 93

    "I could not be happier with the outpouring of support... to improve the climate and environment for our school family," Rosenberg said.

    Organizations involved included the school's Parent Teacher Organization, Jersey Cares, Bank of America, The College of New Jersey and St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Yardley, Pa.

    The federal holiday honoring King was signed into law in 1983 and took effect three years later.

    Only two other figures have national holidays in the U.S. honoring them - George Washington and Christopher Columbus.

    Michael Mancuso may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @michaelmancuso Find on Facebook.

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    A five-year plan released earlier this month under Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's watch would allow offshore drilling in more than 90 percent of the outer continental shelf, which includes areas of the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans.

    News that Florida appears to have gotten a pass from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke while the Garden State's Atlantic Coast will likely be open for drilling has members of New Jersey's congressional delegation fuming.

    A five-year plan released earlier this month under Zinke's watch would allow offshore drilling in more than 90 percent of the outer continental shelf, which includes areas of the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans.

    The plan drew immediate outrage from governors and members of Congress representing coastal states - for good reason.

    As U.S. Reps. Chris Smith (R-4th) and Frank LoBiondo (R-2nd) point out in a letter, the proposal poses significant economic and environmental risks to local marine wildlife - the lifeblood of commercial fishermen - while threatening a tourism industry that depends heavily on clean beaches.

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    Three dozen Democratic senators - including our own Robert Menendez and Cory Booker - shot off a letter as well, in essence pleading with the feds not to tamper with a valuable natural resource to satisfy the cravings of oil magnates.

    Equally strong opposition came from the governors of New York, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, California, Oregon and Washington, as well as New Jersey.

    But Zinke so far has had ears only for Florida's Gov. Rick Scott.

    After a meeting with the GOP governor, Zinke announced he's decided to exempt the state of Walt Disney, orange groves and alligators - and let's not forget Mar-a-Lago - from the new open-drilling policy.

    "I support the governor's position that Florida is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver," Zinke said in a message announcing his decision.

    So what are we in New Jersey - chopped liver?

    It may be just a coincidence that Florida went big for Donald Trump in 2016, and that Scott is a buddy of the president's. It may also be a coincidence that Scott is expected to run for a U.S. Senate seat later this year against incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson.

    Meanwhile, New Jersey and other states equally affected by the expanded drilling have are justified to view the administration as playing favorites.

    But the nation's coastal waters are too valuable to be used as political bargaining chips, and Zinke has inadvertently exposed the Department of the Interior to court action for his seemingly arbitrary - and indefensible - decision to bestow his blessing only on the Sunshine State.

    U.S. Rep Frank Pallone Jr. (D-6th), the leading Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, summed up the injustice in a few choice words.

    "Florida," he said, "should not be given special status because the president is friends with Gov. Scott."

    Bookmark Follow on Twitter @NJ_Opinion and find Opinion on Facebook.

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    Though the Civil Rights icon, Martin Luther King Jr. was killed nearly 50 years ago, New Jerseyans showed the fight for justice continues.

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    The southbound exits to Memorial Drive and Market Street are closed Watch video

    Two exits on southbound Route 29 in Trenton are closed Tuesday morning, complicating traffic around the Statehouse with the gubernatorial inauguration hours away.

    The southbound exits to Memorial Drive and Market Street are closed, the state Department of Transportation said. 

    All northbound exits are open, but people headed to the inauguration should allow extra time and anticipate congestion, the DOT said. 

    Local traffic on Route 29 southbound may use Sullivan Way or Calhoun Street exits as alternate routes into Trenton, but should expect heavy traffic. Southbound traffic is also being directed to the traffic light at Cass Street to make a U-turn onto Route 29 northbound to get to the Capitol complex. 

    The highway was shut in the area of Calhoun Street after the Delaware River spilled over its banks Monday and remained closed early Tuesday, but has since been reopened as of 7:30 a.m.

    The Delaware River flooding is slowly beginning to subside, according to the National Weather Service's Advanced Hydraulic Prediction Service. The river was at 18.62 feet as of 6:30 a.m. Tuesday -- flood stage is 20 feet. 

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    It peaked at 20.38 feet at 11:15 a.m. Monday, the weather service said. 

    While the Delaware River isn't expected to rise above flood stage again in the next several days, it's still projected to be at 19 feet at 1 p.m. Thursday so that stretch of Route 29 could be closed for several more days. 

    The inauguration ceremony starts at 11 a.m. Democrat Phil Murphy is scheduled to be sworn in at noon at the Patriots Theatre at the War Memorial. The ceremony is about a half-mile from the Route 29 closure. 

    An ice jam is stationary accumulation of fragmented ice that restricts water flow.

    EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated as road conditions changed on Route 29 early Tuesday. 

    Jeff Goldman may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JeffSGoldman. Find on Facebook.



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    Who stole our attention on the hardcourt this week?

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    He was a longtime Trenton resident.

    A 46-year-old man who was shot several times was found dead outside his apartment building in Trenton's West Ward early Tuesday morning.

    Police found Terrence McKinney, of Trenton, in a parking lot behind the multi-unit building at 1115 West State St., the Mercer County Prosecutor's Office said in a statement. McKinney was pronounced dead at the scene. 

    Officers were dispatched at 1:16 a.m. Tuesday, after a Shot Spotter system -- technology that registers gun shots and alerts police -- detected the shots on the block. They didn't receive any 911 calls about the incident, the prosecutor's office said. 

    McKinney's Facebook page listed that he was a longtime Trenton resident and worked at The Hyatt Regency in Princeton. 

    No arrests have been made, and the Mercer County Homicide Task Force and Trenton Police are investigating the incident. 

    The prosecutor's office said the motivation of the shooting is currently unknown.

    Anyone with information is encouraged to call the Mercer County Homicide Task Force at (609) 989-6406 or the Trenton police confidential tip line at (609) 989-3663. 

    Paige Gross may be reached at pgross@njadvancemedia.comFollow her on Twitter @By_paigegross. Find on Facebook. 


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    Warden Charles Ellis was also recently accused of sexually harassing two jail employees

    Mercer County Correction Center Warden Charles Ellis is facing more accusations of inappropriate workplace behavior, including groping.

    In a civil suit filed on Dec. 29 last month, a female corrections officer says Ellis began sexually harassing her at work start in March 2016 after working with him for over 20 years without incident.

    This is the second, recent civil suit accusing Ellis of inappropriate behavior at work. The first accuses Ellis and a Deputy Warden Phyllis Oliver of trying to force a sexual threesome with a female colleague at the jail.

    The Mercer County Prosecutors Office has also launched an investigation regarding the leadership at the corrections center following the suits, and a complaint from the corrections officers' union.

    According to the latest lawsuit, Ellis began making sexual remarks to the officer in March 2016, asking her out on dates, and inquiring about her husband.

    In April, while attending at retirement party for another officer, the woman claim Ellis he grabbed her jacket from behind and slid his hands up to her breasts and told her, "Damn, I didn't know you were holding like that," the suit reads.

    While still at the party, Ellis made further comments about the officer's breasts, and stared at them.

    Ellis' alleged inappropriate sexual comments continued throughout May and June 2016, which included comments on how the officer would look outside of her work uniform, the way her lips looked and that Ellis would like to "have fun," with the officer, the suit alleges.

    The officer, "never reacted in kind to any of the sexually harassing comments, or sexually inappropriate actions by Ellis," the suit says.

    "The County emphatically denies the allegations in the complaint, and will vigorously defend against it," Mercer County spokeswoman Julie Willmot said Tuesday.

    In September 2016, the officer believes she began to face retaliation from Ellis and Deputy Warden Phyllis Oliver for not submitting to Ellis' advances.

    The officer was denied vacation days, written up for taking a sick day and given a five-day suspension after calling out for one day.

    In August 2017, the officer filed a complaint with human resources, according to the suit. No investigation was conducted and the harassment and retaliation is ongoing, it says.

    The officer is suing for back pay, lost wages and benefits and attorney fees.

    Olivia Rizzo may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @LivRizz. Find on Facebook

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    Robbers with matching descriptions have hit 3 convenience stores since the start of the new year

    Hamilton police are investigating the holdup of a township gas station, the third in a string of armed robberies since the start of the new year.

    At about a3:15 a.m. Tuesday, two suspects  -- one carrying a gun -- entered Gulf Gas Station on the 1100 block of Chambers Street and demanded money, Lt. Michael Kelvy said in a statement.

    Descriptions of the suspects given to police match the descriptions of suspects at two armed robberies of Hamilton 7-Eleven stores that were linked earlier this month. 

    The store on Lalor Street near the Trenton border was held up at about 4:45 a.m. on Jan. 4 and the store in the 900 block of Arena Drive was hit at 2:15 a.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 10.

    Hamilton police said the men wore masks, gloves and hooded sweatshirts in each robbery. In the second robbery, one of the suspects wore a True Religion-brand sweatshirt with a gold "U" on the front left breast and had a gold Buddha on the back - which also says "True Religion" in gold letters.

    Kelvy wrote that in Tuesday morning's incident, one robber, between the ages of 20 to 25 years old, wore a sweatshirt with the same description, black pants and a ski mask. He was armed with a handgun. 

    The second suspect, Kelvy said, appeared to be 17 to 20 years old, and wore a black leather jacket, black hooded sweatshirt, black pants, ski mask and black gloves. 

    The robbers fled on foot on Chambers Street toward Cedar Lane, Kelvy said, and remain at large.

    No one was hurt, he added, and the proceeds of the robbery are unknown. 

    Anyone with information about the incidents is encouraged to contact Detective Frank Burger at 609-581-4010 or the Hamilton Police Crime Tip Hotline at 609-581-4008.    

    Paige Gross may be reached at pgross@njadvancemedia.comFollow her on Twitter @By_paigegross. Find on Facebook. 

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    A former state champion re-classified this week to highlight several weight-class changes

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    The dramatic footage was posted to YouTube last week, claiming the chaos occurred in Hamilton, in Mercer County Watch video

    It was gripping, and dramatic.

    As two men hold up a 7-Eleven, apparently at gunpoint, a security guard comes into the store and saves the day, shooting at the bad guys.

    One of the robbers yells that his own gun is fake.

    "Mine is real," the guard growls as he takes over the situation.

    And it was caught on video.

    The footage was posted on YouTube last week and said it occurred in Hamilton, in Mercer County. 

    "711 robbery with a twist," the video was titled, and had this description: "Damn good shot! Hamilton NJ 7-11 near Ham West HS."

    People started posting it on Facebook, with some praising the guard's actions, and saying the robbers got what they deserved. It gained a lot of traction online starting Sunday night.

    But some questioned if it really happened, and if it was indeed the the 7-Eleven on South Broad Street at East Park Avenue, just down from Hamilton High School West.

    Turns out it was not.

    Hamilton police 'investigated' the video, due to its title and how much it was being shared on social media. And because the media was asking.

    It took place in Compton, Calif., just outside Los Angeles, Hamilton police spokesman Lt. Mike Kelvy said Tuesday evening.

    His detectives learned that from 7-Eleven corporate officials, he said.

    The video was posted by a Myles T, who has posted just two videos on YouTube.

    The video was a hit, though, racking up over 1.3 million views.

    Kevin Shea may be reached at Follow him on Twitter@kevintshea. Find on Facebook.


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    Park employees found the woman along a tree line off Hughes Drive

    The death of a 20-year-old woman found in Mercer County Park Wednesday does not appear to be criminal, Hamilton police said.

    Park employees found the woman, who police say lived in Hamilton, along a tree line off Hughes Drive at about 1 p.m.

    An investigation is underway, but police say they do not suspect foul play. An autopsy on the woman is pending.

    Police gave no theories on how she may have died, or how long she was in the park.

    Anyone with any information for police can call Hamilton Detective Leonard Gadsby at 609- 581-4032.

    Kevin Shea may be reached at Follow him on Twitter@kevintshea. Find on Facebook.


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    New Jersey is one of only 16 states whose lawmakers have not examined their own sexual-harassment policies in recent years.

    While the #MeToo movement is revolutionizing the rest of the country, New Jersey is one of only 16 states whose lawmakers have not examined their own sexual-harassment policies in recent years.

    It's also one of only 17 states not to require training for its leaders and their staffs to prevent such incidents from happening in the first place, according to a nationwide examination by the Associated Press.

    Improving those statistics should be high on lawmakers' to-do list, especially with the changing of the guard we've witnessed last week and this week.

    We're encouraged that Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) has made the issue a priorit as a member of the Legislative Services Commission, the panel of lawmakers who review state policies and laws.

    These sexual harassment policies are among worst in nation

    The good news is that while sexual harassment complaints have cropped up in state capitals in Massachusetts and California in the past three months, none have been filed in the Garden State.

    A request for public records documenting complaints against members of the Assembly or Senate returned no evidence, nor did it yield any settlements or payoffs going back to 2008.

    But in this super-charged atmosphere, with heightened awareness of rampant misconduct shaking up industries and institutions, we're not naive enough to assume that no news is good news.

    Secrecy and cover-ups have too long prevailed.

    Weinberg said she wouldn't be shocked if one of her colleagues faced charges of sexual harassment - but she acknowledged she is not aware of any outstanding complaints.

    The Associated Press investigation found that in three-quarters of the states, at least one legislative chamber has updated its sexual harassment policies in the past three months, or is in the act of doing so.

    Here at home, these policies have not been revamped since 2009 - the year before Gov. Chris Christie took office.

    Heartening news came from Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex), the newly-elected Assembly Speaker, who says he's entered into discussion with his staff on how to update a set of policies that will be both expansive and modernized.

    Among other issues, we hope the lawmakers will look into changing the way complaints are investigated.

    The existing policy allows complaints to be investigated internally, rather than by an outside investigator. A fresh, independent eye would produce a fairer outcome, given New Jersey's long-enshrined Old Boys' network way of conducting politics.

    Weinberg also is working on a noteworthy measure that would ban employers from entering into non-disclosure agreements with employees regarding harassment or discrimination incidents - a change she says would help change "the culture of secrecy that lets people get away with this."

    Bookmark Follow on Twitter @NJ_Opinion and find Opinion on Facebook.


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