PATERSON, NJ– Authorities say city firefighter Kaheem Hunt allegedly helped a possible killer escape from a street shooting two weeks ago by driving the getaway vehicle. Police are now looking for Hunt’s younger brother on murder charges.
Hunt, 30, allegedly drove to the scene of a street dispute on May 1 with two passengers in his grey Honda, Chief Passaic County Assistant Prosecutor Paul DeGroot said during a hearing on Monday afternoon.
DeGroot said that after the shooting, Hunt drove away with the same two passengers, including a man who witnesses said had the gun.
During the court hearing, DeGroot said Hunt would not reveal to investigators the identities of the two men who accompanied him. The prosecutor said Hunt’s brother, Keith, has been charged with the same crimes as was his sibling – murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and weapons offenses.
The firefighter had been arrested within 48 hours of the fatal shooting of Juan Martinez, 39, on May 1. But authorities had not revealed what role they believe Hunt played in the killing until Monday’s hearing. The fact that Hunt’s brother also was charged in the crime was not made public until Monday.
Superior Court Judge Ernest Caposela on Monday decided to allow Hunt’s release, on the condition he wear an electronic monitoring bracelet and not have any contact with his brother or others involved in the crime.
The judge said Hunt’s release was based on the new guidelines established under New Jersey’s recent changes in the bail system. Under the old rules, Caposela said Hunt likely would have faced a bail of at least $750,000.
Hunt’s lawyer, Patrick Jennings, argued that his client deserved to be released. Jennings said the accused was a member of the Army National Guard who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and that he cares for his mother, Joy Hunt, who suffers from multiple sclerosis. He also said Hunt has a 4-year-old daughter.
“Judge, you cannot lead a more law-abiding life than Mr. Kaheem Hunt has lived,” said Jennings. “He has been out there, saving lives.”
After the hearing, Jennings said of Hunt, “He is innocent of the charges and looks forward to clearing his name.”
The shooting, one of Paterson’s 14 homicides this year, took place during a dispute near the corner of Madison and Essex streets in the city’s 5th Ward, according to police. Authorities have not revealed what the dispute was about.
DeGroot said in court on Monday that the initial argument was between Victor Morales and Tamika Walker.
Walker then alerted her boyfriend, Taihibi Ladson, to the trouble and he went to the scene several hours later, DeGroot said. While Ladson and Morales were confronting each other, someone grabbed Ladson and shots were fired, DeGroot said.
Authorities have not revealed what role the victim, Martinez, played in the incident. Nor have they disclosed the identity of the person they believe fired the fatal shots.
Hunt has been suspended without pay from the city firefighter job he held since 2012. His salary is $67,257. His arrest stunned members of the Paterson Fire Department as well as people who knew him as a star football player at John F. Kennedy High School.
Martinez, whose nickname was “Life,” lived in a rooming house near the scene of the crime.
Released for free (on tax payers dollars) without any accountability thanks to NJ Bail Reform.
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