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Courts
State gets more time to indict Bridgeton woman in son's murder

BRIDGETON — The city woman charged in the February murder of her toddler son and hiding his burnt remains will stay in jail, a Superior Court Judge ruled Wednesday.

The Prosecutor’s Office will have an additional 45 days to take the case to a grand jury, denying a motion to reopen a detention hearing.

Nakira M. Griner, 24, who was charged in the murder Feb. 9, hours after telling police her 23-month-old son, Daniel Griner Jr., had been abducted, was remanded to the Cape May County jail after her hearing Thursday morning in Cumberland County Superior Court.

In addition to the murder, she is charged with endangering the welfare of a child, desecration of human remains and tampering with evidence. If convicted, she could face life in prison without parole.

Griner sat shackled in an orange jumpsuit with her eyes straight forward or cast down during the half-hour appearance, where Senior Prosecutor Elizabeth Vogelsong successfully argued for the extension.

Due to the Bail Reform and Speedy Trial Act, implemented Jan. 1, 2017, the state has 90 days to indict a defendant from the time they are detained and 180 days to bring it to trial or a defendant can be released. However, motions can be made to extend the time periods under certain circumstances.

A toxicology report confirmed the remains were those of Daniel Griner Jr., and the death has been ruled a homicide based on blunt-force trauma from the autopsy, Vogelsong said.

However, the state is still waiting on communication data warrants requested from Facebook, Google and Daniel Griner Sr.’s phone records, as well as DNA analysis on “an item that was sent to the lab.”

“It’s not something that we’ve delayed in any way,” Vogelsong said, adding she has no control over the companies from which information was requested.

Kimberly Schultz, Griner’s defense attorney, said the motion was a “delay tactic” and said Griner needs mental health care for postpartum depression, something she is not getting in jail.

She questioned why the child’s father was never charged or considered a suspect in the case. Griner Sr. admitted during an interview with the Prosecutor’s Office that he hit the child with a belt four times during one instance days before the murder, she said.

“The state had in its mind who they wanted to charge and why they wanted to charge them, and they’re now trying to find the evidence to fit that narrative,” Schultz said. “Delaying this case any further is an injustice to my client and the victim in this case, the young child.”

Vogelsong said the officials have investigated Griner Sr. and he was not at the house when they believe the child was killed.

Police found the child’s remains in a pink purse outside the couple’s home on Woodland Drive, where the windows were open and fans were on, authorities said. Griner told police she lied about the abduction and had hit the child for not eating breakfast and had abandoned him to avoid blame for hurting him.

In his decision, Judge Robert G. Malestein said the case was delayed “because of the nature of the crime, because of the condition of the body.”

“There is nothing before the court that would indicate that the Prosecutor’s Office, the state, has purposefully delayed this matter simply to delay the release of your client at all,” Malestein said, adding he has concerns over allegations of Griner’s mental health issues. “If she’s released into the community, I don’t know how to protect the process at this point in time.”


Public-safety
Atlantic City police say crime is down. Why don't people believe it?

A video that captured a fight inside the McDonald’s on Arkansas Avenue in March racked up more than 1 million views on Facebook and sparked multiple online comments.

“They act like animals, so sad,” Patricia Miller wrote about the scene in which several teens threw cups at staff and pepper sprayed a security guard.

Comments also turned to the city itself. “This is why AC is doomed. Tourists don’t want to deal with this. Take your money to CT casinos,” Al Ambro wrote.

YouTube  

This snippet taken from a YouTube video shows a woman pepper spray a security guard early Saturday at McDonald’s in Atlantic City.

For Anthony Mack, who owns that McDonald’s and one on Albany Avenue with his wife, the video is just a snapshot of his reality. Even before the fight broke out and the teens were charged with criminal mischief and disorderly conduct, Mack said his restaurant has become a hub for illicit behavior and unruly activity.

“We’re just trying to keep our head above water,” Mack said about his business, just steps away from shoppers at Tanger Outlets The Walk, “and you’ve got to do that to make sure that the people that come here have a pleasant experience.”

The crime there isn’t always violent.

Still, Mack knows all too well that aggressive begging, theft and outbursts like the fight are what his customers remember.

And, whether criminal or simply unpleasant, high-profile incidents such as the one depicted in the video leave residents and outsiders with the impression Atlantic City is unsafe.

“This is really not a bad area, but if we don’t get our arms around it, we’re never going to be the best we can be,” Mack said.

Edward Lea / Staff Photographer  

‘We’re just trying to keep our head above water, and you’ve got to do that to make sure that the people that come here have a pleasant experience,’ said Anthony Mack, who owns the McDonald’s near Tanger Outlets The Walk in Atlantic City.

It’s a challenge Atlantic City as a whole shares.

Law enforcement and other community stakeholders have to address the reality and complexities of urban crime. But they must also improve perception so the visitors they hope to attract and the residents they hope to keep feel safe.

Crime is still not as low as local leaders and police would like, but data show total crime in the resort is a third of what it was in 2013.

In 2018, police saw yet another round of sharp decreases — nearly 30 percent for violent crime and almost 32 percent for nonviolent crime from the year before.

YearViolent Crime Rate per 1,000Nonviolent Crime Rate per 1,000Murder
199038.1372.614
198934.5397.815
199138.0366.715
199234.1325.68
199335.4279.011
199428.0227.69
199526.5263.815
199624.3263.111
199722.1255.612
199818.5219.914
199916.8221.55
200013.4172.511
200115.5163.97
200218.5137.45
200315.5134.55
200417.5125.85
200519.0121.69
200620.4112.318
200722.296.67
200816.973.811
200921.383.011
201020.789.811
201117.580.313
201217.975.618
201317.774.73
201413.773.96
201515.975.67
201612.558.812

So why is perception still struggling to keep up with reality?

Louise Schwartz, 75, who has lived in the South Inlet for 2½ years, had a friend in neighboring Ventnor say she was too afraid to visit her at the Bella Condos.

“I was insulted that she thought coming into Atlantic City, although she was less than a mile from my house ... was going to be a very dangerous place to visit, to walk down the street,” she said.

Some residents and visitors say the declining crime numbers don’t reflect the deep-rooted issues they see in the city: poverty and a transient population in need of mental health and addiction treatment.

A 2008 study published by Washington State University researchers looked at crime perception surveys from almost 3,000 eastern Washington state residents and found citizens did not differentiate between crime and disorder.

Disorder was the primary focus of the influential 1982 article “Broken Windows” by social scientists George L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson, which focused on an overlooked source of fear — the fear of being bothered by “disorderly” people.

Not violent people, or even criminals, but those such as panhandlers, drunks, addicts, rowdy teenagers, loiterers or people with mental health struggles.

Kelling and Wilson claimed leaving disorder unchecked — whether it’s not fixing broken windows or not addressing unruly behavior — could lead to increased fear and withdrawal from residents that consequently opens up their neighborhoods to crime.

While this approach may help lessen fear, there’s not clear evidence it helps reduce crime. In practice, “broken windows policing” in major cities such as New York has become synonymous with aggressive misdemeanor arrests and harassment, all while crime experts have found no compelling evidence it significantly reduces crime.

Critics in follow-up studies cite one prominent flaw in applying the theory: Disorder doesn’t look the same to everyone. Perceptions can be racially and culturally motivated.

Johnson Report

Atlantic City is preparing to put more officers on the street via a community policing initiative that would station veteran officers in neighborhoods to monitor trends. That same initiative would assign a task force to address homelessness and petty crime in the Tourism District.

Police Capt. Rudy Lushina said during a meeting of the city’s Boardwalk Committee on April 10 that officers will hand out business cards with their city-assigned cellphone number for residents to contact them.

“Our goal is to not frustrate the citizens, but give them the best help they can when they call one number,” he said, adding it’s “designed to do long-term problem-solving.”

The program will also look to partner with the city’s social services, said Matt Doherty, executive director of the Casino Reinvestment and Development Authority, which is funding the program.

But along with policing certain neighborhoods, residents are concerned about how they look.

With more than 500 documented abandoned properties, parts of the city contain trash, unused space and decaying homes residents feel bring crime and illicit activity into their neighborhoods.

Edward Lea / Staff Photographer  

Indra Owens, center of Atlantic City, hugs a friend as she gives a tour of her neighborhood. Owens and Automne Bennett talk about the neighborhood during a ride along through the Atlantic City to check out the areas in her city that are dangerous.

“This was a beautiful house,” said Indra Owens, 37, pointing to boarded-up and abandoned homes on McKinley Avenue, the street where she grew up. “I don’t know why the people are abandoning properties. I know taxes are an issue, too, but the crime is off the hook — don’t nobody want to live here.”

Owens and her friend and fellow city resident Automne Bennett, 36, said they were skeptical of the city’s crime data as they pointed out abandoned properties last month they said have become a breeding ground for crime and drug use.

How much urban decay and how great of a sense of safety people feel are often linked. And while there are many properties that may make people feel unsafe, efforts to revitalize them can have big returns on perception.

According to one study, researchers who tracked 5,112 abandoned buildings and vacant lots in Philadelphia from 1999 to 2013 found urban blight mediation programs to be cost-beneficial strategies that significantly reduce gun violence.

Remediation of buildings reduced gun violence 39%, and vacant-lot remediation reduced it by 5%. Taxpayer and society returns were $5 and $79 for every dollar spent on abandoned building remediation, and $26 and $33 for every dollar spent on vacant-lot remediation.

Recent additions of positive development like the city’s Stockton University campus have brought renewed hope to many residents that the city will become what it should be — a destination like Miami, Cape Cod or Martha’s Vineyard — but there’s still work to be done.

“In order for Atlantic City to really, really change, we got to change the culture,” Bennett said. “It’s a mindset shift.”

Staff Writers Molly Bilinski and Vincent Jackson contributed to this report.


Atlantic_city
WATCH: Demolition begins on Bayview Inn, where gator was found in 2017 raid

ATLANTIC CITY — Barking dogs and loud bangs woke up Scott Henderson one August morning two years ago.

Outside his door at the Bayview Inn, authorities were conducting a drug raid that displaced Henderson’s family and left him scarred.

“My kids were crying their eyes out,” said Henderson, who said he stayed at the rundown motel for about six months with his two children and wife. “I still think about it.”

On Thursday, demolition finally began on the eyesore inn on Albany Avenue, where a three-foot alligator was infamously found in the now-green pool during the raid, followed by two fires.

The tear-down has been long awaited by those who considered the crumbling building an eyesore at the entrance to Atlantic City.

Since it closed, it was rumored squatters were living there as the Albany Avenue building further deteriorated, with graffiti covering much of the outside.

Months after the raid, officials put a lien on the property and issued an order to raze it. The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority said it would pay for the $240,000 demolition, but a lawsuit from a possible developer held up those plans. The suit was tossed out by an Atlantic County judge last month.

“It’s bittersweet,” said Henderson, who later moved to another motel in Egg Harbor Township, and then out of state. “I’m happy it’s being torn down … but I have a lot of memories there.”

In the parking lot Thursday, city worker Tom Edwards manned an excavator that ripped apart the motel’s pink walls.

A pile of mattresses, debris and one red, toy bike sat in a giant pile before Edwards used the construction equipment to lift it into a 100-cubic-yard truck headed for a landfill.

The demolition permit was issued Wednesday, he said, and police checked the rooms to ensure no one was living inside.

“I’ve been waiting ... and we got the call yesterday,” said Edwards, who arrived at 8 a.m.

The motel was set to be auctioned this week, but the sale was called off at the last minute.

Dale Finch, the city’s director of licensing and inspections, said the resort asked AC Auctions Realty auctioneer Robert Salvato and the owner, SomDev Real Estate, not to put the decrepit building up for public sale.

GALLERY: Demolition on Bayview Inn starts

The city plans to put another lien on the property for the cost of demolishing it, Finch said. The owner could either pay off the lien, sell the land or abandon it, he said.

“We just want to make sure it’s gone so it doesn’t give the impression that Atlantic City is looking like that,” Finch said.

The Bayview’s fate is similar to that of a number of other Route 40 motels built decades ago.

The 2008 recession left fewer families visiting Atlantic City and booking motels nearby, putting a strain on many of the inns. Eventually, some simply became havens for drugs and crime.

Five in the West Atlantic City section of Egg Harbor Township were demolished in 2015 using CRDA money, including the Golden Key Motel, where the bodies of four prostitutes were found in 2006.

But seven remain, a roadblock to the redevelopment of the road into Atlantic City.

In December, Egg Harbor Township took a new approach to cleaning up the Pike by applying for a $2.4 million Federal Emergency Management Agency grant to tear down four Black Horse Pike motels: the Hi Ho Motel, Destiny Inn, Bay Point Inn and Budget Motel. They would be turned into green space.

In the Bayview’s parking lot, Bill Hayes, of JW Transportation Co., watched from his red truck as pieces of the motel were lifted into the dump truck. Hayes’ company is transporting the excavator being used for the job and estimates the entire demolition could take about a week.

The South Jersey native, who swiped towel racks from one room, said he used to visit the motels along Route 40 in the 1970s, before they went downhill.

“I stayed there before the casinos even,” he said. “They were nice places. ... It’s a shame.”


Griner


Lauren Carroll / Staff Writer 

The city issued a demolition permit Wednesday to begin tearing down the Bayview Inn on Albany Avenue in Atlantic City.


Casinos_tourism
Atlantic City benefited from statewide tourism boom in 2018

ATLANTIC CITY — The greater Atlantic City region benefited from record-setting tourism numbers in 2018, and the goal, according to experts, is to maintain that momentum through 2019 and beyond.

Visitation to New Jersey increased 7.4% to 111 million people in 2018 over the prior year with tourists spending $44.7 billion, the state Division of Travel and Tourism said Thursday.

Gov. Phil Murphy said he wants to increase visitation in New Jersey to 150 million by 2023.

“The results released today make clear that New Jersey’s natural landscape, picturesque cities and towns, and abundant shoreline are in a class of their own, and attracting more visitors than ever,” Murphy said in a news release. “In the years to come and as this critical industry continues to grow, I look forward to joining families from around the world in enjoying what New Jersey has to offer, supporting the businesses and communities that make our state special.”

A panel of tourism, business and casino industry experts expressed optimism Thursday morning for local increases in visitation, employment, gaming and nongaming revenue during the 11th annual Jersey Shorecast hosted by the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality & Tourism at Stockton University.

Rummy Pandit, executive director of LIGHT and moderator of the Shorecast, said that “2018 (had) been a very exciting year for Atlantic City,” citing growth in several key economic indicators for the region and highlighted by the openings of two casinos (Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City and Ocean Casino Resort), Stockton’s city campus and South Jersey Gas’ new headquarters.

Sandi Harvey, vice president of sales for Meet AC, said conferences and conventions accounted for 371,996 room nights booked last year and first-quarter results for 2019 were “phenomenal.”

“2018 was probably the best year we’ve ever had,” Harvey said.

Jim Ziereis, vice president of hotel sales for Tropicana Atlantic City, said there was uncertainty last year about what impact the addition of two new casino properties would have on the market.

Ultimately, the property saw an “uptick” in meeting and convention bookings and was the second-highest gaming-revenue producing casino in Atlantic City.

“It was a pretty successful year for us,” Ziereis said.

However, the dual openings of Hard Rock and Ocean created a shortage of workers throughout the region.

Mike Tidwell, director of sales and marketing for Seaview Hotel and Golf Club in Galloway Township, said “labor was a big problem” last summer.

“When the new casinos opened, it just sucked the air out of the market,” he said.

Atlantic City’s nine casinos employed more than 30,000 people last year for the first time since 2014, when 12 properties were operational.

Oliver D. Cooke, an associate professor of economics at Stockton, said the regional unemployment rate continues to trend down and is about 5.4% in Atlantic City.

Ziereis said Tropicana had difficulty reaching 100% occupancy in 2018 because hotel staff “couldn’t keep up” with turning over rooms quickly enough.

Brian Tyrrell, a tenured professor of hospitality and tourism management studies at Stockton, said an improved national economy has aided New Jersey’s tourism market. A combination of a bullish stock market and tax cuts, among other variables such as increased consumer confidence and wage gains, has contributed to more spending power for travelers, he said.

“Disposable income is so important to tourism,” Tyrrell said.

Ziereis said the expectation for this summer is continued growth, noting an additional Saturday in August and a number of high-profile entertainment acts coming to the resort, including the nearly sold out 25th anniversary of the Vans Warped Tour on June 29 and 30.

“It’s helping everybody,” he said of the increase in gaming and nongaming attractions citywide. “We’re all in this together.”

Pandit said that in order for 2019 to meet expectations or exceed the results of last year, Atlantic City needs to continue offering more nongaming options for visitors.

“Diversification is indeed the key; there’s no two ways about that for success,” he said.

Mark Callazzo, CEO of Alpha Funding Solutions and investor in the Orange Loop development, said smaller projects, such as those already in place or opening on Tennessee Avenue, are designed to spur a “live, work, play” atmosphere in Atlantic City.

“The idea was to give people a reason to live in Atlantic City,” Callazzo said. “We’re trying to create a go-to Main Street for the city.”