All five defendants charged in connection with the violent 2014 robbery of an Elizabeth scrap metal yard have now pleaded guilty in the case, acting Union County Prosecutor Grace H. Park announced Wednesday.
Rafael Clemmons, 30, of Irvington and Sharod Saunders, 43, of Newark, late last week admitted to charges of first-degree kidnapping and first-degree robbery, respectively. Irvington resident Anthony Brailsford, 28, and Newark residents Michael Howard, 25, and Steven Chambers, 32, pleaded guilty earlier this year.
On April 18, 2014, Elizabeth Police Department patrol units responded to the Bayway Scrap Metal yard on Amboy Avenue to find multiple victims who reported that they had just been held hostage by several men wearing gloves, overalls, and masks while brandishing three handguns and an assault rifle, according to Union County Assistant Prosecutor Jeremiah Lenihan, who prosecuted the case.
The defendants first physically assaulted and threatened the business owner and her husband, both of whom were in their 60s, before binding them and four others in the store at their hands and feet with zip ties as the defendants stole their personal property, including wallets and cash, Lenihan said. While the six victims then were held captive for approximately 90 minutes – one customer pistol-whipped until he fell unconscious, the others told that they were “going to die together” – the defendants loaded more than 600 catalytic converters valued at approximately $100,000 into a rented commercial vehicle. They then fled the area in that vehicle and a stolen pickup truck taken from the parking lot outside.
Moments later, the defendants were spotted by police heading northbound on U.S. Routes 1&9, resulting in a brief pursuit. After the defendants’ vehicles crashed, one colliding with a police vehicle, four of the five defendants were arrested and transported to Union County Jail on $1 million bail apiece. Brailsford remained at large until he was arrested in February 2017.
Sentencing for Brailsford and Howard has been scheduled for Friday, October 20, 2017 before state Superior Court Judge Robert Kirsch, at which time the State will recommend terms of 9 and 11 years in state prison, respectively. The remaining three defendants are scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Kirsch on Friday, November 3, 2017, with the State recommending a 25-year sentence for Clemmons and a 22-year sentence for Chambers and Saunders, with 85 percent of all three terms to be served before the possibility of parole.