Shooting Suspect in Lakewood Cop Killing Appears in Court; Plans to Plead Not Guilty
Crockam is accused of killing Officer Christopher Matlosz, who was a Manchester resident and Howell High School graduate
The suspect in the murder of a Lakewood police officer appeared in state Superior Court Tuesday, saying little and smiling slightly as he faced murder and weapons charges.
Crockam plans to plead not guilty to the murder and weapons charges, said Frank Gonzales, a deputy public defender who is representing the suspect. He faces life in prison if convicted of murder, a court official said.
Crockam appeared in orange-and-white-striped prison garb Tuesday and said "yes" when asked by state Superior Court Judge Wendel E. Daniels if he understood the charges against him.
At one point, he looked to the rear of the packed courtroom, smiled and appeared to greet someone as he stood in handcuffs and ankle shackles in courtroom 12 at the Ocean County Justice Complex in Toms River.
Security appeared tight at the courthouse, with numerous Sheriff's officers wearing bulletproof vests guarding the entrance to the complex. Snipers could be seen perched on the roof of the courthouse.
Crockam faces murder and weapons charges that were filed against him while he was still at large between Friday night and 6:30 a.m. Sunday when he was arrested in Camden. The charges were filed after a police investigation established probable cause, authorities said.
He also faces a charge of possessing a firearm with the purpose of using it against another person in connection with allegedly shooting Matlosz, according to a copy of the signed complaint.
Bail will remain set at $5 million, which was set on Sunday, unless it's changed at a bail hearing in the future, Daniels said. No date has been set for any bail hearing or arraignment.
"We will put forth a strenuous defense," Gonzalez said, though he said Crockam is considering hiring private counsel. "We're asking the community to keep an open mind."
Police arrested Crockam at 6:30 a.m. Sunday, Jan. 16, at Crestbury Apartments in Camden, where Crockam sought refuge, according to Marlene Lynch Ford, Ocean County prosecutor. Police had received a tip and went to the complex.
Ford had said gang involvement in the Friday afternoon shooting was still under investigation.
Crockham goes by the street name of "Sav," short for savage, Ford said.
Crockham is accused of shooting Matlosz after he had pulled his patrol car up alongside Crockam on August Drive on Friday afternoon. Police believe that Matlosz had begun to talk to Crockham when he allegedly shot him.
Lakewood Police Lt. Paul Daly said after Tuesday's court appearance that he believes Matlosz did not know at the time that the man he was starting to talk to was wanted on prior weapons charges.
"Chris was caught off guard," Daly said. "I believe he (Matlosz) was attempting to I.D. him (Crockham). Had he known he was wanted, his approach would have been different."
When asked about rumors that Crockham is a member of the Bloods gang, Daly said, "I can't say."
When asked if the Bloods have put out a threat to kill Lakewood police officers, Daly said, "That's not verified."
Daly said the death is a great loss for the department.
"He was a great guy," Daly said. "He was well-liked. He had an excellent work ethic. He'll be missed."
Ford said a prior warrant for Crockham's arrest was issued on Dec. 29 for illegal possession of a rifle and hollow point bullets. Bail for that warrant was set at $150,000, but Crockham was never arrested.
Ford said no other arrests have been made in connection with Matlosz's murder, and Crockam's capture was made without incident, she said.
Crockam was initially taken to Lakewood Police Headquarters for processing, and then was transported to the Ocean County Jail in Toms River on Sunday.
Officials credited the spread of citizen tips and the massive cooperation of police forces as important contributions towards the ultimate goal of taking Crockam into custody. Local authorities acted quickly in the days after Matlosz was shot three times - at least once in the head - while on patrol, officials said.
“The real heroes are citizens that stepped forward with info that we feel directly contributed to the arrest of the suspect in this heinous act,” Ford said.
The murder was the second tragic event to hit the family in six months. Matlosz's father, Anthony Peter "Buddy" Matlosz, died at 57 on Sept. 6, 2010, at home, according to an obituary that was published in The Asbury Park Press. The obituary was republished on Legacy.com.
The Legacy.com guest book included tributes from Chris Matlosz and his fiance, Kelly Walsifer of Manchester, who told Chris' father that she was "really excited for you to be my father-in-law."
“This will allow us to go forward and start to grieve,” Ford said of the arrest.
Matlosz was pronounced dead at Jersey Shore Medical Center shortly before 5 p.m. Friday, said Ford. Matlosz's fiance was at the hospital when he died, Ford said. He is survived by his brother and mother.
The state Policeman's Benevolent Association increased its reward offer Saturday to more than $110,000 for any information that led to Crockam's arrest. The reward money grew thanks to additional contributions from the FBI and other law enforcement agencies, Ford said.
Matlosz was a member of the Lakewood Police department since 2006, according to Ford. He was formerly a police officer in Englishtown, and was a special officer in Long Branch, Manasquan and Freehold.
He graduated from Howell High School in 2001 and received his associate degree from Brookdale Community College in 2004.
Matlosz's Manchester neighbors described the officer as a man who was always at the ready to serve his community.
Matlosz was on a routine patrol and in his police vehicle when the suspect then took a step back, pulled a gun and shot Matlosz three times at close range in the head, Ford said.
“This is a particularly heinous, execution-style shooting,” Ford said.
A viewing for Matloscz will be held Wednesday from 4 to 9 p.m. at the Lakewood Funeral Home in Howell. A funeral Mass will be held at 12 p.m. Thursday at St. Mary of the Lake Church on Route 9 in Lakewood.
Anyone with additional information is asked to contact Lakewood Police Department at 732-363-0200 or the Ocean County Prosecutors Office at 732-929-2027, or dial 911.