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From engineering to busting gangs: Ocean County prosecutor picks first Black detective chief
Asbury Park Press - 11/23/2021
TOMS RIVER - For Anthony Carrington, meeting President Barack Obama in 2013 was a high point in a long career as a detective at the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office.
It was especially meaningful to Carrington, he said, because of the impact it had on his immigrant parents.
"When I told my mom and my dad, they were just overwhelmed with emotion," Carrington said. "I remember my mom saying, 'Who would think that a woman from Cuba marries a man from Barbados and has a kid who can touch the president?'"
But meeting the president was not by chance. As a detective sergeant who helped to create an intelligence unit in the Prosecutor's Office to oversee homeland security matters, Carrington was part of Obama's security detail when the president visited New Jersey in May 2013 to tour areas along the Shore that were devastated by superstorm Sandy. As such, Carrington was given the opportunity to pose for a photograph with the president.
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Now, Carrington, 57, of Toms River, has reached another pinnacle in a law-enforcement career that has spanned almost 27 years. On Nov. 4, he was promoted to chief of detectives for the Prosecutor's Office — the first African-American to hold that position in the history of the office.
That, too, is neither by chance nor due to his race.
"I chose him for this position because he is the best person for the job," said Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley D. Billhimer.
"He brings a certain level of expertise to every conversation we have, whether it's about an investigation or personnel," Billhimer said of Carrington. "He's always going to be honest and truthful, and I think he is the perfect person to lead the investigative side of the office."
Michael Rush, vice president of the Lakewood chapter of the NAACP, knows Carrington for his work in the community, coaching youth in sports and his involvement in a youth mentorship program.
"A light has shown on Tony Carrington because he deserves it, and he's going to continue to do the best he can to make a difference in lives and make the community a better place," said Rush, who was the first African American principal in the Toms River Regional School District.
"There's no doubt in my mind that Carrington received that promotion because he's the best applicant for the job, not because he happens to be African American," Rush said.
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But, the fact that there now is an African American in the top spot of the investigative side of the Prosecutor's Office will make a difference, Rush said.
"People will see him and look at him and say, 'Wow! If Anthony can do it, I can do it,'" Rush said. "When he goes to speak to people in the school systems, I can see the little Black boys and little Black girls saying, 'I can do that. I can be that.'"
Carrington, one of five children, spent his early childhood in the Bronx, moving to Lakewood when he was around 6 or 7.
His Cuban mother, who was a Head Start teacher in Lakewood, was intent that he be a professional, so Carrington earned a degree in electrical engineering from Rutgers College of Engineering, he said. After graduating, Carrington worked for a defense contractor for a while before deciding a career in engineering "wasn't for me," he said.
Carrington had some good friends in law enforcement, and the next thing he knew, he was handing his resume to one of the assistant prosecutors in the Prosecutor's Office. That assistant prosecutor was Wendel E. Daniels, who went on to become Ocean County's first African American Superior Court judge, now overseeing the criminal division at the Ocean County Courthouse.
The move landed Carrington a job interview with then-Chief of Detectives Charles Kuyl, now deceased.
Kuyl looked at the engineering degree and experience on Carrington's resume and asked him, "Why are you here?" Carrington recalled.
"I told him I wanted to be in law enforcement — this is what I wanted to do," Carrington said. "He looked at my resume and said, 'I'm looking at the future chief of the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office.'"
Hired in December 1994 by then-Prosecutor Daniel J. Caluccio, also now deceased, Carrington graduated from the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice Academy at Fort Dix the following year. After a brief stint working in the prosecutor's grand jury unit, Kuyl transferred Carrington to the Ocean County Narcotics Strike Force, where his undercover work took down numerous drug dealers in the area.
Carrington was reassigned in 1999 to the Arson and Environmental Crimes Unit and became a certified arson investigator. In 2003, he was moved to the Major Crimes Unit, investigating homicides and other deaths and serious crimes.
But much of Carrington's work solving murders occurred behind the scenes, after he was promoted to sergeant in 2006 and helped to create the Ocean County Gang Task Force and the county Intelligence Unit, which he supervised. As such, he was designated by the FBI as the Ocean/Monmouth Gang Task Force coordinator at a time when gang violence was becoming rampant in the area.
In the mid-2000s, gang members were targeting vulnerable individuals for robberies and other violent crimes, Carrington said.
"It was busy and it was very public," he said.
Carrington recalled the blatant, gang-related, afternoon shooting death of a 21-year-old man in a crowded Lakewood barbershop in 2006, and the shooting death of a 55-year-old Lakewood woman on the morning the barbershop murder trial began in what was a move to silence the star witness in that case.
Carrington said it was gang intelligence that helped detectives in the Major Crimes Unit solve those and many other cases.
"We developed intelligence on a lot of these individuals, and we assisted Major Crimes in solving these homicides as a result of the intelligence on the street," he said.
But Carrington said it was a shocking crime that galvanized law enforcement in Ocean County to put an end to the rampant gang violence — the murder of Lakewood police Officer Christopher Matlosz, 27, who was shot three times in the head at close range on Jan. 14, 2011, as he sat in his patrol car. It was the only line-of-duty murder of a police officer in Ocean County's history. Prosecutors gained a conviction of Jahmell Crockam for Matlosz's unprovoked murder, arguing he shot the officer because there were warrants for his arrest, and he didn't want to go to jail.
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"I think it was a turning point," Carrington said of Matlosz's murder. "Ocean County is not associated with assassinations on law-enforcement officers and, I think that the law enforcement community, although they took gang activity to be a serious problem within their communities, that it was still manageable. And, I think once there was that assassination on Matlosz, they realized Ocean County is also susceptible to that kind of violence if allowed to be unchecked."
That brought about a concerted effort by law enforcement in Ocean County to put an end to the gang violence, he said.
"I think we did a successful job in dealing with the violence associated with the gangs," Carrington said.
And, as law-enforcement got a handle on the problem, members of the public became more willing to come forward to them with information on gang activity without fear of reprisal, he said.
"The acts of violence, I believe, have decreased significantly from the times we were dealing with them in 2005, 2006, 2007, and that is because of the concerted effort by local law enforcement to remove the barriers that used to be in place, and the number-one barrier was communication," Carrington said.
While Carrington said there still are gang members in Ocean County, "it's really just little cliques more so than organized gang activity."
Carrington was promoted to the rank of lieutenant in 2017 and, in 2019, he was promoted to captain and reassigned to oversee the Special Investigations Unit, which includes internal affairs investigations, economic and high-tech crimes, senior citizen scams, homeland intelligence, gangs and special projects.
Now, as chief, Carrington said he is aware that sentiment for law enforcement "is not the best it's been," but the problem is not as severe in Ocean County as it is elsewhere in the nation.
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"We are doing what we can to make sure every officer is trained on use of force, de-escalation and learning how to deal with individuals who are dealing with mental illness issues," he said.
Carrington said the prosecutor's intelligence unit has good relationships with civic and religious groups.
"I want them to realize they have a seat at the table," he said. "I would just like to increase the transparency the prosecutor's office has with the citizens that we serve.
"I think that my connection with the communities and Ocean County's long tradition of working with the communities are going to make my job a lot easier," he said.
As chief of detectives, Carrington succeeds former Chief Joseph Mitchell, who recently retired. He oversees the prosecutor's entire investigative staff, which includes his son, Anthony Carrington III, 29, a detective in the prosecutor's office.
Another of Carrington's sons, Kyle, 26, is a Lakewood police officer.
Carrington and his wife, Bivia, a civilian employee in the Lakewood Police Department's records department, have two other children, son Darrion, 23, a student at Yale University, and daughter Selena, 20, a student at Rutgers University.
Kathleen Hopkins, a reporter in New Jersey since 1985, covers crime, court cases, legal issues, unsolved mysteries and just about every major murder trial to hit Monmouth and Ocean counties. Contact her at email@example.com.
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