Authorities arrested two people early Wednesday in the slaying of an off-duty Newark police detective who was gunned down this week during a robbery outside a northern New Jersey strip club where he was celebrating a friend's birthday.
Jerome Wright, 24, who had multiple addresses in Paterson and Newark, and a woman police identified as his girlfriend, Nashali Gadson, 19, of Newark, were arrested Wednesday in a hotel near Philadelphia. Both have been charged with felony murder, robbery and weapons charges in the death of Detective Michael Morgan.
Valdes said the two defendants remain in custody. Wright is being held on $1.5 million bail, and bail had not been set for Gadson as of Wednesday afternoon. It was not clear if they had retained lawyers.
Police said Morgan, 32, was walking a dancer to her car as they left the Sunrise Gentlemen's Lounge in Paterson around 3 a.m. Monday and were approached by Wright, who was brandishing a gun and demanded money.
Morgan was armed at the time, but it's unclear whether he struggled with Wright before the assailant fired one shot, striking Morgan in the torso, said Passaic County Prosecutor Camelia Valdes. Police believe Morgan reached for his weapon because it was found under his body.
Wright fled with an undisclosed amount of money and stole Morgan's wallet containing his police identification, according to Valdes.
Police said Wright had robbed a woman at gunpoint in an industrial area of Paterson dotted with businesses shortly before he accosted the detective in the same area. Valdes said Wright put a gun to a woman's head around 2:45 a.m. Monday, forcing her to lie on the ground and taking her purse, containing a cellphone and credit cards. The victim's stolen card was used Nov. 7 at a Foot Locker in Newark, and the woman identified her attacker from surveillance video, police said.
At around 3:10 a.m., police said Wright encountered Morgan and the dancer, shot Morgan, and robbed the dancer.
The robbery and shooting were captured on surveillance video, police said.
A tip from a Paterson resident also helped police track Wright, but they wouldn't comment on how he was traced to the Philadelphia area, or where he was arrested. Neither the gun used to shoot Morgan nor the robbery proceeds have been recovered, according to Valdes.
Morgan had worked for the Newark Police Department since 2005. He had just been promoted from the narcotics and gang unit to the special investigations unit. He was to begin his new job Monday.
Several other Newark officers had been at the club with Morgan earlier in the night but left before the shooting, according to police.
Multiple law enforcement agencies collaborated on tracking down the suspects. Officials from Newark, Paterson, Passaic and Essex counties, and the U.S. Marshalls Service said Wednesday it was an example of successful inter-agency cooperation.
Newark Mayor Cory Booker and members of Newark's police department said Morgan was a model police officer dedicated to helping others, who had dreamed as a child of being an officer.
"He was the greatest of heroes from our community, and some two-bit criminals stole his life from his family, from the community and from his country," Booker said. "And for what? Some credit cards and some chump change. This is outrageous, this is heinous, this is the manifestation of evil."
Morgan's funeral is planned for Saturday morning at Saint Lucy's Roman Catholic Church in Newark, followed by burial at Glendale Cemetery in Bloomfield.