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Atlantic City mayor, councilman have assault case adjourned for discovery

NORTH WILDWOOD — Two Atlantic City officials charged with simple assault and harassment for their roles in a November fight outside a casino nightclub were silent during a less-than-five-minute appearance in municipal court Tuesday afternoon.

Councilman Jeffree Fauntleroy II and Mayor Frank Gilliam Jr. also declined to comment outside the courthouse after the appearance, which focused on the exchange of evidence from the state to the defense.

Both officials pleaded not guilty in December to the charges, which stem from a Nov. 11 fight outside Haven nightclub at Golden Nugget Atlantic City. Fauntleroy sat in the back row of the courtroom gallery, while Gilliam sat in the second row. The two officials did not speak while they waited for their case to be called before Judge Louis Belasco Jr.

Gregory Aulicino and Joseph Camarata, two of the three complaining witnesses and employees at Haven, were present in court but declined to comment to reporters outside the courthouse.

Ron Gelzunas, the municipal prosecutor for the city of Wildwood, said he handed over discovery to lawyers for Fauntleroy and Gilliam, Matthew Leonard and Vincent Campo, respectively.

The case is being heard in Cape May County to avoid conflicts of interest in Atlantic County.

Gelzunas said there were “two thumbs drives containing all of the video and the recordings, police reports and all of the investigative material.”

However, Gelzunas said that after speaking with one of the victims Monday, there are additional photographs that were not included in the file that were taken that evening, which he needs to provide.

Tuesday’s appearance was to make sure everyone was on the same page with regard to discovery, Leonard said, adding there is a lot of footage that isn’t necessarily relevant to the case that needs to be looked through.

Although the charges are non-indictable offenses, they’re still criminal charges and are “nothing to take lightly,” he said.

Belasco said that within two weeks, the exchange of evidence should be completed. Court staff would contact the attorneys to schedule a court date “before the end of February,” he added.

Video footage released in November shows Gilliam exchanging punches with an unidentified individual and Fauntleroy tossing another man to the ground from behind.

Gilliam “swung a punch but missed but kept trying to attack” one man and chased another man around a car after a punch didn’t land, according to summonses obtained by The Press of Atlantic City through an Open Public Records Act request.

Fauntleroy punched one of the men in the face “a few times then threw him on the floor and chased him,” according to one of the complaints.

Both men allegedly made verbal threats to a woman, saying they were going to (expletive) her up, according to the documents.

Video footage of the incident reviewed by The Press of Atlantic City had no audio, and it is unclear who initiated first contact, but a fight ensued that lasted about 45 seconds.

No more driving on AC Boardwalk, after damage from decades of vehicles

ATLANTIC CITY — Vehicle traffic has caused structural damage to older sections of the Boardwalk that may cost as much as $50 million to fix, Mayor Frank Gilliam said.

“A lot of it is in disrepair because construction vehicles have been allowed to drive on the Boardwalk,” said Gilliam. “The joists underneath have rotted out — they have not been looked at in over 30 years.”

So the city has moved to restrict vehicle traffic to emergency vehicles and will install concrete barriers at street-end ramps to the boards, Councilman Aaron Randolph said.

Lisa Ryan, spokeswoman for the state Department of Community Affairs, which oversees the city’s municipal operations, said a structural engineer has conducted “an initial review of the Atlantic City Boardwalk and deemed it structurally sound and safe for foot traffic.”

The sections at issue are the older, oceanfront sections, from about New Jersey Avenue south to Ventnor — not the new sections recently completed from Ocean Resort Casino through part of the Inlet.

Ryan said the city and state are considering conducting a complete examination of the Boardwalk in the future.

The city hopes to make repairs in part with leftover federal Hurricane Sandy funds the DCA has yet to allocate, said Gilliam at a recent meeting of the Chelsea Neighborhood Association.

Delivery trucks for businesses along the Boardwalk are being kept off the boards as much as possible, Ryan said, and the Police Department is using smaller, lighter vehicles for Boardwalk patrols.

Ryan said commercial trucks have ended up on the boards, after being directed there by GPS units, causing damage.

Letter writers have told The Press about seeing trucks allowed to use the Boardwalk.

“We recently watched fully loaded trucks cross at Texas Avenue for the airshow that almost caved in the Boardwalk,” wrote Robert Friedenberg, a letter writer from Galloway Township, in September.

In September 2017, an 18,000-pound 18-wheeler tractor trailer drove onto the Boardwalk at Albany Avenue in Atlantic City and traveled more than 2½ miles before getting stuck on the Ventnor Boardwalk.

The driver couldn’t find a ramp wide enough to exit, police said at the time. The driver was cited for driving an unauthorized vehicle on the Boardwalk.

Ventnor police Chief Douglas Biagi said the driver, of Dallas, was not drunk and no one was injured in the incident. He said there was no obvious structural damage to the Boardwalk, but it would need to be inspected by an engineer.

Also in 2017, a small building-supply truck got onto the Boardwalk in Atlantic City and ended up at Washington Avenue in Ventnor. That driver was also cited, according to officials.

Gilliam called renovation of the Boardwalk a “herculean task.” He is seeking financial help from some of the tens of millions in unspent federal disaster assistance funding for recovery from Sandy, saying the city did not get its fair share of that funding to raise and renovate homes.

“We realize that we can’t have the entire $50 million at once, but we’re looking at phasing it in. We had an engineer look at the most problematic areas to start first,” Gilliam said.

He is also hoping some of that funding can be used to replace crumbling bulkheads on the bay side of the city.

Report: NJ student loan debt doubled in a decade

Following a national trend, student loan debt in New Jersey has more than doubled in the past decade, according to 2018 data reported by Experian.

The credit-reporting firm revealed in a blog post last month that New Jersey students owe nearly $43 billion in loans for higher education. That is a 126 percent increase from the $18.8 billion owed in 2008.

The impact of student loan debt can be seen across the economy, according to experts. A 2018 report, “Buried in Debt,” showed that people who have student loans are putting off major life milestones such as marriage, children and home buying, and are struggling to make ends meet while paying off debt.

“There’s a whole generation that has been unable to begin their journey of the American dream,” said Daniel Roccato, adjunct professor of economics at Rutgers University.

Nationally, student loan debt has hit an all-time high of $1.36 trillion. According to Experian, student loan debt is one of the most significant and widespread financial burdens in the country, behind mortgages. Home loans account for $9.4 trillion.

Roccato said the evidence is more than anecdotal. He said the Federal Reserve has conclusively determined homeownership rates and the ability of millennials — those born between 1981 and 1997 — to purchase homes have been negatively impacted by student loan debt.

“If there’s a whole generation of folks who are hurting financially, unable to fully engage in the economy, that clearly hurts all of us,” he said.

According to Experian, New Jersey’s student loan debt growth was on par with the national average. South Carolina saw its total student loan debt increase by 315 percent.

The average student loan borrower has $22,600 in debt associated with higher education, up 20 percent in the past three years. Experian reports that although overall debt is increasing, a good sign is that more borrowers are paying on time, with only 5.7 percent of loans delinquent in the third quarter of 2018.

Politicians and educational advocates trying to reduce the cost of attaining a post-secondary degree have been advocating for programs like free college. On Monday, two bills advanced in the state Senate that would assist those struggling to repay NJCLASS loans, which are state supplemental family loans for higher education.

Starting this year, Gov. Phil Murphy initiated a free community college pilot program. Students who take a certain number of credits at participating colleges can have the balance of their tuition and fees paid for after all grants and scholarships are applied.

In addition, several four-year colleges have partnered with community colleges for dual-admission agreements. Locally, Stockton University has agreements with seven community colleges, including Atlantic Cape Community College and Cumberland and Ocean county colleges.

Bob Heinrich, chief enrollment management officer at Stockton, said he wasn’t surprised by the growth of student loan debt in the state. According to Heinrich, 86 percent of students at Stockton receive financial aid, which is consistent with similar public colleges in New Jersey. He said as public institutions grow, state funding does not increase to the necessary levels and the costs are pushed off on the students through tuition increases.

“Now we have to find creative ways to help families who may not be able to pay those fees,” said Heinrich, citing the dual admission programs and work study offerings.

Heinrich said Stockton has also recently begun offering aid grants, averaging $1,000 a semester, to bridge the gap for students who qualify. For fall 2018, that was 1,758 freshmen.

“That’s really helped a large number of our students,” he said.

In addition, high school dual-credit programs allow students to come to college having already completed college-level courses at a cost of $400 per four-credit class. For students who qualify for free and reduced lunch, the fee is waived. Heinrich said 1,200 high school students will benefit this year from Stockton’s dual-credit program, up from 800 last year.

Roccato said reducing student debt should go beyond offering free college programs and the like. He said colleges need to begin to rein in the costs of higher education.

“Free tuition sounds great. Who wouldn’t want free tuition? But there’s no such thing as free tuition,” Roccato said, adding someone will pay for it somewhere along the line.

He said colleges should look at where and how they spend their money on amenities, which he said are becoming unconstrained, citing items like rock climbing walls, bamboo flooring and other high-end finishes.

“It’s going to take some tough questions around how do we do things different than we’re used to,” Roccato said.

Vineland body cam footage shows victim unconscious after arrest

VINELAND — Footage from body cameras worn by two police officers shows an arrest in the Inspira Medical Center parking lot that left a 59-year-old city man in critical condition with a head injury earlier this month.

William “Bill” Oslin remains hospitalized at Cooper University Medical Center in Camden following his Jan. 12 arrest by police. Michael Schwartz, an attorney hired by Oslin’s family, said Oslin suffered a head injury and has been unable to speak since the arrest.

The Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office said it is investigating an officer involved in the Jan. 12 incident but would not identify the officer. Vineland police declined to comment, referring requests to the Prosecutor’s Office.

Earlier this week, the Prosecutor’s Office released videos from the cameras of two responding officers in response to an Open Public Records Act request filed by The Press of Atlantic City.

One video, which is almost nine minutes long, contains footage from the camera of Officer Anthony Capelli, who was the first to respond to the scene. The other video, which is almost three minutes long, comes from the camera of Officer Jeffery Rowan.

In the first video, provided by Capelli’s camera, Oslin is seen sitting alone on a grassy curb in the center’s parking lot until getting up to walk over to Rowan and a woman Oslin identified as his girlfriend. Capelli follows Oslin, calling his name and grabbing his arm from behind. Oslin’s body blocks the camera for about 20 seconds until he is suddenly moved toward the sidewalk.

In video provided by Rowan’s body camera, Capelli can be seen holding Oslin’s shoulders from behind, and the two stand together while the woman talks to Oslin. When Oslin raises his arms and lunges toward the woman, Capelli spins Oslin away and drags him to the ground so Capelli lands on top of Oslin.

Oslin does not struggle in the videos while Capelli handcuffs him and Rowan, along with an unidentified hospital worker, holds him down. Capelli is then heard in the video calling for EMS. Blood can be seen pooling around Oslin’s head onto the sidewalk when officers roll him onto his side.

Rowan stated in an affidavit he arrived about 2:30 p.m. to assist Capelli in an alleged domestic dispute and that Oslin was “clearly intoxicated from alcohol.”

And in Capelli’s video, Oslin is seen drinking from a small bottle, smoking a cigarette and talking on the phone while Capelli questions him.

Jonathan James, Schwartz’s partner, said they don’t dispute Oslin’s intoxication. They said Oslin’s girlfriend had dropped him off at the center for detox treatment.

Schwartz, however, questioned the officers’ reporting of the arrest. Officers did not document any injuries in their initial reports, according to the affidavit filed that day. In the section where an officer must provide the extent of an injury if applicable, Rowan listed “no injuries.”

“Clearly there were injuries. I don’t know where they get that from,” said Schwartz, “and certainly that’s going to be part of what we’re looking into — the why and how.”

Schwartz said they are focusing on seeing Oslin through his medical procedures until he is able to communicate directly.

Executive Assistant Prosecutor Kevin Guinan said the footage has not been edited for content but does blur certain portions to protect the identity of non-law enforcement witnesses.

aauble-pressofac / Oslin family / provided  

Bill Oslin is in critical condition after Vineland police attempted to arrest him for what they said was a domestic dispute while he was intoxicated at Inspira Medical Center on Jan. 12.