Middle Township residents and officials are outraged following the release of Jonathan Rodriquez-Ocasio, who was arrested Sept. 19 on a murder charge in the 2009 death of an 84-year-old woman in Puerto Rico.
Rodriquez-Ocasio was released Friday from the Cape May County Jail after Puerto Rican authorities refused his extradition, giving Middle Township police no choice but to let him go. He was living in a mobile home park in the Rio Grande section of the township at the time of his arrest.
James Bratten, a Rio Grande resident and active member of the Neighborhood Watch group Friends of Davis and Peel, said he saw Rodriquez-Ocasio riding his bike Sunday, two days after his release.
"I'm irate about it, and I know the rest of the community is also very disturbed," Bratten said.
Rodriquez-Ocasio was arrested on a tip, Middle Township Police Department Chief Christopher Leusner said.
The warrant filed in the federal Criminal Justice Information Services system initially said Rodriquez-Ocasio could be extradited to Puerto Rico from any state, but after his arrest it was changed to allow extradition only from within Puerto Rico. Leusner said the change violates protocol and he has reached out to the New Jersey State Police and the FBI to resolve the issue.
But while he plans to continue working to get Rodriquez-Ocasio off the street, Leusner said he's helpless to take action unless Puerto Rico offers extradition.
"I'm extremely frustrated," he said. "I'd also like to make it clear, with Puerto Rico refusing to come and pick him up to extradite, we are left no legal recourse. We can't hold him, under the law."
Many members of the community have expressed concern about Rodriquez-Ocasio's release, Leusner said. The Middle Township Police Department posted a link to a newspaper story on Rodriquez-Ocasio's release to its Facebook page shortly after he was freed. The link currently has 15 comments and has been shared twice.
The details of Puerto Rican authorities' refusal to extradite Rodriquez-Ocasio are hazy. A release issued by the Cape May County Prosecutor's Office shows the state of New Jersey offered to help pay for his extradition, but the offer was refused.
Puerto Rican online newspaper NotiCel reported in a Sept. 29 article that a witness in the case against Rodriquez-Ocasio has refused to testify. The article cites the Puerto Rican Justice Department as refusing to extradite due to insufficient evidence, not because of the cost of extradition. Rodriquez-Ocasio is one of four men arrested in connection with the 2009 case. The other three are in custody in Puerto Rico, NotiCel reported.
Unless Puerto Rico reverses its stance on his extradition, there's nothing Middle Township police can do to keep Rodriquez-Ocasio off the street. While there have been no further developments on that front, Middle Township Mayor Dan Lockwood has given his assurance that the township will continue to push for resolution.
"I just need to deal with it as best I can," Lockwood said. "I can't make things happen - can't pull the rabbit out of the hat, per se. (But) we're not giving up on this. It's not something I'm taking lightly."
Contact Braden Campbell: