CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE - A Pennsylvania man was sentenced Friday to three years in prison for the 2006 attack of a vacationing black police officer in Sea Isle City.
But Jason J. Caron told Superior Court Judge Raymond Batten that the assault was not motivated by the victim's race.
"I did not say anything racial. Nothing was racially motivated," Caron said before being sentenced. "That is not me. That's not who I am."
Assistant Prosecutor Matthew D. Weintraub, however, said the victims, including Jarreau Francis, a black off-duty officer from Cheltenham Township, Pa., and other witnesses told investigators that racial slurs were said as Francis and two of his fellow officers, both white, were attacked.
Weintraub said Francis was minding his own business when he was "accosted for no reason" while "racial epithets were directed toward him."
Francis and two other Cheltenham officers, Francis Donato and Thomas Byrne, were the victims of the assault, which took place in the early morning hours of Aug. 22, 2006, along the 3800 block of Central Avenue in Sea Isle City.
Francis was struck with a bat, but Caron did not admit to hitting Francis or to shouting any racial epithets. Caron did, however, admit that he struck Byrne in the knee with a baseball bat.
He told the judge in February that afterward, "I took off running and chucked the baseball bat over a fence."
Caron, 28, said he was in Sea Isle City that day, staying at a vacation home, when his friend, Thomas Russo, called him multiple times saying he had been in an altercation at a bar and needed help.
Caron, joined by Keith Hoffman, Lindsay Moffitt and John Hamilton, drove to the scene, and Caron asked Russo where the people were who attacked him.
"He pointed at the crowd," Caron said. Next, they went after at least three people, and Caron said he saw at least one person strike Francis.
Weintraub said Friday that the case was a difficult one for investigators, who did not have many of the facts for months, even years, after the event.
After plea negotiations between Weintraub and defense attorney Darrin Lord, Caron, originally charged with bias intimidation, a first-degree crime, pleaded guilty in February to conspiracy to commit aggravated assault.
"Justice delayed does not necessarily mean justice denied," Weintraub said of the time that has passed since the assault.
Batten, noting that Caron had been drinking alcohol prior to the assault, said Caron's previous contacts with the law included a disorderly persons offense and ordinance violations that had some link to his use of alcohol.
Batten called the August 2006 assault unnecessary and avoidable. He then sentenced Caron to three years in prison. Caron was taken away in handcuffs as his family looked on.
In May 2008, Hoffman and Russo pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit aggravated assault, a third-degree crime, and both men identified Caron as the third attacker. They will receive probationary sentences and have agreed to cooperate with the investigation.
Moffitt was originally charged with obstruction and hindering apprehension, and later entered the pretrial intervention program. No charges were filed against Hamilton.
Initially, police charged Russo, Hoffman and another man, Vincent Giordano, with the attack, but the charges against Giordano were dropped in December 2006 after investigators learned Giordano had been misidentified.
Weintraub had said investigators had a hard time determining "who did what to the victims."
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