A local activist group named four Atlantic City firefighters Monday it says are responsible for an incident allegedly involving inappropriate sexual conduct in a city fire station with females as young 16.
The four were named in a letter the local members of Al Sharpton’s National Action Network hand delivered to the state Attorney General’s Office in Trenton and the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington. They claim at least five firefighters should be held responsible for what allegedly went on. They did not name the fifth firefighter.
Mayor Lorenzo Langford and resort Fire Chief Dennis Brooks have separately confirmed there is an investigation, but neither has provided details. The Press of Atlantic City has decided not to name the men, because no charges have been filed.
The letter says two of the girls involved in the alleged incident are16 years old. The other two females involved were 19 and 20, according to National Action Network southern New Jersey chapter President Steven Young.
Notices of intent to sue, filed on behalf of the two 16-year-olds, detail the alleged incident, which they say began when the four females passed by Fire Station 2 at Baltic and Indiana avenues May 15.
A firefighter invited them back for pizza at 8:30 p.m., during which time he persuaded one of the minors to expose her breasts, according to the tort claims. He then exposed himself to both 16-year-olds and persuaded them to touch his genitals. He then ejaculated in the presence of the four, the filing by Voorhees attorney Michael Barrett states. He also slapped one of the girls on the butt.
While the National Action Network’s letter portrays one firefighter as being involved in the interaction, it claims at least five firefighters were responsible because they were on duty and did not stop what happened. Four are named.
The group has called for an outside review of the incident, citing the nearly two months that have passed since a mother of one of the females contacted police in June.
“We can’t get a fair investigation in Atlantic City, we can’t get a fair investigation in Atlantic County,” Young said. “They have a track record with this kind of situation.”
But investigations can take time and need to be conducted out of the public view so as not to influence witnesses or potential targets, Atlantic County Prosecutor Ted Housel said.
He stressed that, under attorney general guidelines, he cannot even confirm the existence of an investigation. But Housel did give some insight into how such a probe would work.
After investigators conduct their review, the prosecutor gets interview transcripts – which are first proofed for errors – and other pertinent materials.
“It’s a whole process,” Housel said. “Part of the investigation is to review what witnesses say and what occurred.”
He said for the group to release names would be premature “because they don’t know what witnesses may or may not have told an investigating agency.”
Monday’s move by the group comes a day after members announced the families of the young women plan to sue Atlantic City for $5 million.
Young and Mahdi Salaam, both of Atlantic City, and chapter Vice President Gordon Sunkett, of Winslow Township, met with a state investigator for about 20 minutes in the spacious public area inside the Richard J. Hughes Justice Complex in Trenton. They then met in an office for another 15 minutes.
The group said the request was received and delivered to lead state investigators.
The state Attorney General’s Office does not confirm or deny ongoing investigations.
“We believe because of the history of no-response investigations in the police, fire departments and Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office, we would not see justice served to the accused,” the letter read. “Therefore, we are requesting the State of New Jersey Attorney General’s Office or the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. to immediately look into these matters.”
It added later, “It is past time to close this investigation and return to making our police and fire departments a safe haven again and make sure (for) all children artificial and racial or economic barriers are finally removed from the American system.”
The four girls are black and the firefighters are white, according to the group.
Fire Chief Dennis Brooks said he too would like to see resolution to the incident, which has cast a shadow over the entire department.
“I’d like a swift and fast conclusion to this,” he said. “I’m as frustrated as everyone else. I just want to get to the truth.”
Young said, “There needs to be immediate arrests, and it should not be a prolonged trial, if any.”
While Housel would give no legal ruling on a situation such as the one claimed by the tort filing, he did point to state statutes concerning age of consent.
According to the law, both aggravated criminal sexual contact and the lesser degree charge of criminal sexual contact require the victim to be at least 13 years old but less than 16 years old. The statutes only apply to victims from 16 to 18 when the perpetrator is in a parental or supervisory role.
Barrett, who is representing the teens, would not comment on that at this time.
Housel said if there is an investigation, he would feel bound to release the outcome even if no charges arise, because the public is waiting on it.