Did Irvington cop hit Newark councilman’s car? Experts disagree

NEWARK — Experts for the prosecution and defense in the trial of an Irvington police officer accused of hitting a Newark councilman’s SUV three times after he broke up with her by email offered competing conclusions this week about whether the cars ever came into contact.

An investigator from the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office told a jury Tuesday that the car driven by the police officer, Monique Smith, definitely struck South Ward Councilman John Sharpe James’ SUV on Jan. 5, 2015.

A forensic expert for the defense, meanwhile, said Wednesday that the crash data recorder in Smith’s Honda Accord did not show any signs the car had struck her ex-boyfriend’s Nissan Xterra.

The trial before Superior Court Judge Michael L. Ravin has hinged on whether Smith’s car actually made contact with James’ SUV after the breakup on the day that Smith was to be promoted to captain in a police department ceremony.

Sgt. Daniel Cokelet, of the Prosecutor’s Office crash and fire investigations unit, testified that there was enough evidence to say the front bumper of Smith’s Honda hit the back bumper of James’ Nissan Xterra at least once.

He said he could not determine whether the bumpers had definitely come into contact multiple times and no video collected from nearby homes shows the cars colliding.

Nicholas Bellizzi, a forensic engineer, testified Wednesday that he had examined the Honda’s crash data recorder after the incident. Those recorders measure changes in a vehicle’s velocity that would be indicative of a collision and can also be linked to whether air bags deployed, he said.

Bellizzi said the Honda’s event data recorder showed there had been no contact between the Honda and another car.

“There was nothing recorded — there was no event,” he said. “It was all zeros.”

During cross-examination of Cokelet, the Prosecutor’s Office investigator, on Tuesday, defense attorney Steven Altman asked whether there was any report stating that the towing process had not caused damage to the Honda.

Cokelet said there was no such report, but that one would have been generated had damage been caused.

Bellizzi said he examined photos of the damage the Honda had allegedly caused to the Nissan’s back bumper and that type of damage would only be caused by an impact to the inside of the bumper, like might be caused by a tow truck hook.

Smith faces charges on two indictable offenses: unlawful possession of a weapon and possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose. An aggravated assault charge was dismissed before trial.

She is also charged with disorderly person offenses, including criminal mischief resulting in damage of $500 or less to James’ SUV, that the judge will decide.

Smith was suspended from the Irvington police department after she was arrested in the case. She rejected a plea deal that likely would have given her probation as a sentence on a charge of fourth-degree criminal mischief, and she would have had to give up her police job.

In testimony last week, James described where Smith’s Honda allegedly hit his SUV twice in the rear and once on the side, causing about $1,500 worth of damage.

He said he decided after an argument on Jan. 2 to end the relationship and that he “did not want anything further to do with” Smith.

The trial will resume Wednesday afternoon.