A Somerset County man was sentenced to state prison on Dec. 3 on charges that he chased a woman and two small children with an imitation rifle while trying to steal the woman’s cell phone in Montgomery Township.
Michael Kibalo, 29, of Montgomery, was sentenced by Superior Court Judge Angela Borkowski in Somerset County to four years in prison, 85% of which must be served without possibility of parole, Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal said in a prepared statement.
Kibalo pleaded guilty on Sept. 24 to charges of second-degree robbery and third-degree bias intimidation filed by the Division of Criminal Justice. He also pleaded guilty to two counts of third-degree aggravated assault filed by the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office for assaulting his parents with a shovel weeks after the robbery incident.
Kibalo was sentenced to four years in prison on those charges, to be served concurrently with the other sentence.
For the bias intimidation charge to which he pleaded, the State established that Kibalo was motivated by anti-Asian bias.
Deputy Attorney General Adedayo Adu was the lead prosecutor on the case, and Deputy Attorney General Matthew Lafargue represented the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau at the sentencing hearing, according to the statement. Kibalo was charged in an investigation by the Montgomery Township Police Department, Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office, and Division of Criminal Justice.
Montgomery Township police officers arrested Kibalo on the afternoon of March 1, after he chased the woman and two small children in the area of Belle Glades Lane and Sleepy Hollow Lane, according to the statement. The incident began when Kibalo, who had his head and face covered with a hooded sweatshirt and mask, pointed an imitation rifle at the woman and ordered her to give him her cell phone. When the woman refused to surrender the phone and ran, Kibalo caught her and tried to wrestle the phone from her hands, according to the statement. Kibalo fell, however, and the victims continued to run from him.
A bystander heard the woman screaming and ran to help, but before he reached her, a Montgomery Township police officer arrived. Kibalo stopped chasing the woman and faced the officer. He was still holding the imitation firearm, which had no orange tip or other markings to show it was not real. Officer Connor Chapkowski ordered Kibalo to put down the weapon multiple times before he complied, according to the statement. Kibalo was then placed under arrest, with assistance from another township officer.
“This man terrorized his victims and created a very dangerous situation,” Grewal said in the statement. “I commend the Montgomery Township police officers for their handling of this incident. We’re committed to fully investigating and prosecuting bias crimes in New Jersey. As members of law enforcement and as a society, we need to push back against intolerance and hatred.”
“This defendant is facing a substantial prison term thanks to the excellent work of our Specialized Crimes Bureau, the Montgomery Township Police Department, and the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office,” Director Veronica Allende of the Division of Criminal Justice said in the statement. “We are sending a message that we have zero tolerance for hate crimes.”
“I feel great sadness for the victims and families involved in this terrifying incident,” Montgomery Township Police Director James M. Gill said in the statement. “It is my hope that the sentence imposed brings closure, healing and justice to those impacted, and also brings awareness to our community. This case again demonstrates that the officers of the Montgomery Township Police Department will work tirelessly and use every tool and resource we have to ensure the safety of all citizens.
“I want to recognize Officer Connor Chapkowski assisted by Officer Kendall Bohannon for their swift actions to de-escalate and control the situation,” Gill added. “I’m also proud of our additional responding officers and the detectives who investigated this case, in cooperation with the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office and the Division of Criminal Justice. Lastly, I want to recognize two other unnamed people. Upon hearing the victim scream, a contractor working nearby immediately took action to help the victims in the case. Also, a neighbor who heard the commotion opened her home to provide a safe area for the victims as the suspect was taken into custody. At a time when the more common response we see across the country is for people to stop to record events, these two people instead chose to actively help our victims at an incredibly chaotic time.”
Deputy Attorneys General Adu and Lafargue prosecuted the case for the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau under the supervision of Deputy Bureau Chief Jacqueline Smith and Bureau Chief Erik Daab. Detective Brian Christensen was the lead detective on the case for the Bias Crime Unit of the Specialized Crimes Bureau.
On Nov. 23, Grewal, the Division on Civil Rights, and the Division of Criminal Justice announced the launch of a new internet portal, the NJ Bias Investigation Access System (NJBIAS). Now available to the public at https://bias.njcivilrights.gov, the new web portal provides a simple and fast way for anyone who is aware of, has witnessed, or has been the target of a possible bias offense to report it to the Division of Criminal Justice. Likewise, anyone who believes they have been the victim of harassment or discrimination in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination can file a complaint via the new portal.
In April 2019, Grewal issued updated Bias Incident Investigation Standards which focus on ensuring proper investigation of all bias incidents. The standards provide for streamlined reporting of all bias incidents by law enforcement agencies using the new Electronic Uniform Crime Reporting (eUCR) system maintained by the New Jersey State Police. This system allows for centralized and more accurate reporting of bias incidents throughout the state. The standards mandate continuing education for police officers regarding interactions with various faiths and cultures, as well as recognizing and investigating bias crimes.
The Attorney General’s Office offers a reward of up to $25,000 for tips from the public leading to a bias crime conviction. To report a bias crime, visit http://nj.gov/oag/bias or call 800-277-BIAS.