Two incidents grabbed public’s attention at outbreak of pandemic

At the start of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic in March, Gov. Phil Murphy and New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal decided they needed to publicly shame individuals who allegedly committed “crimes.”

As the pandemic took hold and forced residents to remain in their homes, Grewal began to release descriptions of the “crimes” that had allegedly been committed by residents who found themselves living in a world turned upside down.

Two men whose names were released by Grewal are residents of communities served by Newspaper Media Group.

I am not proud that as someone who has a say in the editorial direction of this newspaper, I helped to allow the names of those two men to be published in print and online.

Their alleged “crimes” – disorderly persons offenses – did not rise to the level of having their names published.

Grewal’s practice of naming people who have been charged with disorderly persons offenses has since ceased.

Here is a recap of the two incidents.

On March 22, a resident of Freehold was at a supermarket in Manalapan.

According to Grewal, a store employee was concerned the man was standing too close to her and an open display of prepared foods, so she requested that he step back as she covered the food.

Instead, the man allegedly stepped forward to within 3 feet of her, leaned toward her and purposely coughed. He allegedly laughed and said he was infected with the coronavirus.

Not a smart move on his part, but not murder either.

The man, who owns a business in another county, was charged with making terroristic threats, obstructing the administration of the law or other governmental function, and harassment.

The case is being prosecuted by the Division of Criminal Justice in the Attorney General’s Office.

As of July 24, the charges filed against the man were still pending and there is nothing new to report in the case, according to a spokesman for Grewal.

I am not publishing the man’s name today because he has not been convicted of a crime.

On April 3, police in Rumson discovered a homeowner playing an acoustic guitar on the front porch of his home.

There were about 30 people between the ages of 40 and 50 (I now refer to those people as youngsters) gathered on the front lawn and the adjoining street watching the performance.

Police broke up the gathering and the homeowner, who is a local attorney, was charged with reckless endangerment, disorderly conduct and two separate charges related to violating Murphy’s emergency orders.

On July 30, attorney Mitchell Ansell told me his client, John Maldjian, had appeared in Rumson municipal court, virtually, on June 24.

Ansell said the most serious charge, violating the governor’s executive order, was dismissed by the state after the facts of the incident became known. He said Maldjian pleaded guilty to violating a Rumson noise ordinance and was fined $1,000 and ordered to perform community service.

Ansell said Maldjian was hosting a Facebook Live event on the evening of April 3 and had dubbed the event “Stay At Home.” He said when the music began, the number of people outside Maldjian’s home was under the permitted number.

Other people arrived and were in a location where Maldjian could not see them, according to the attorney.

“This case exposes the dangers of social media,” Ansell said. “The incident was initially reported as my client sponsoring an outdoor concert, which was not the case. It was never his intention to have a public gathering.”

I am publishing Maldjian’s name today because it was initially published and because the most serious charge against him was dismissed in court and people should know that. Playing a guitar should not cost someone their reputation.

A pandemic is something none of us have ever lived through. To be fair, the governor has tried to protect New Jersey’s citizens in the best way he has seen fit. Not everyone agrees with all of his moves. Frankly, I would not want that job.

But we can ask the people in power to cut the rest of us a little slack if we screw up, lose our temper for a moment, or do something socially improper during this unprecedented time in our lives.

Disorderly persons offenses need not be turned into high crimes by those who have the power to do so and by doing so, ruin an individual’s name and reputation.

Mark Rosman is a managing editor with Newspaper Media Group. He may be reached at news@njexaminer.com