My son feared cop girlfriend, ex-Mayor Sharpe James testifies

By Karen Yi | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
on April 12, 2017

 

NEWARK -- Former Mayor Sharpe James took the witness stand on Wednesday telling an Essex County jury how a confrontation between his son, a city councilman, and his son's girlfriend, an Irvington police officer, ended on the front steps of his home. 

The officer, Monique Smith, is accused of striking South Ward Councilman John Sharpe James' SUV three times as she followed him through the streets of Newark in January 2015, after James broke off their two-month relationship via email.

In the second day of testimony before Superior Court Judge Michael L. Ravin, the elder James told the jury he received a call from his son on the night of Jan. 5, saying he was being chased by a police officer.

"I was confused because I've never heard of such a situation," James said, adding that at first he thought a Newark officer was giving chase. He stood outside his Wilbur Avenue home to wait for his son who arrived minutes before Smith drove up "at an excessive rate of speed."

"She came running up toward my son, her arms waving to reach him," James, dressed in a suit with a purple tie, told the jury. "I didn't know what was happening."

Smith is charged with two indictable offenses: unlawful possession of a weapon and possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose. A charge of aggravated assault was dismissed prior to trial.

She also faces disorderly persons offenses to be decided by the judge, including criminal mischief resulting in damage of $500 or less to James' SUV.

James -- Newark's mayor for 20 years who served 18 months behind bars on fraud charges -- told the court that Smith was saying she loved his son and "all kinds of incoherent statements relative to my son" in front of the former mayor's house that January night.

He said he ordered his son to go in the house and put his hands up because Smith was "close enough to strike" his son. James said he could smell alcohol on Smith's breath but that she was not staggering or slurring her words. 

He described his conversation with Smith as otherwise "calm, collected, responsible" as the two talked about a mutual friend of theirs from Irvington and he congratulated her on her promotion that day to the rank of captain. 

"That's a tremendous achievement for an African American woman and I meant that," James said, who agreed with defense attorney Steven Altman's description of Smith that night as "respectful," "nice" and "polite."

Smith was later suspended from the police department following her arrest in the case. She previously turned down a plea deal that would likely have her sentenced to probation on a charge of fourth-degree criminal mischief, and would have required her to give up her police job.

At times, James elicited laughs from the jury, saying he wanted his son and Smith to talk things over inside the house but refrained when his wife opposed bringing Smith inside.

He said he listened to his wife, adding, "We've been married 54 years."   

James said he offered to drive Smith home but she declined. 

Earlier on Wednesday, John Sharpe James wrapped up his testimony, describing where Smith's Honda Accord allegedly tapped his Nissan Xterra twice in the rear and once on the side, causing about $1,500 in repairs.

Prosecutors played the 911 call where James tells the dispatcher to send a car because he's been involved in a "road rage" incident.

James said an argument with Smith on Jan. 2 led to his decision to end the relationship. He insisted he wanted no contact, no communication and "did not want anything further to do with" Smith. 

During cross examination, Altman showed James the police report that listed a different location for where Smith allegedly bumped his car. James said he named the wrong streets at the time. 

"The route is still roughly the same," James said. He said the whole ordeal took about five minutes before he ended at his father's house three blocks away from his Pomona Avenue condo. 

"That was the safest place I could get to at that point," he said. 

The trial will resume on Thursday.

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