VERONA — Belleville School Board Trustee Erika Jacho was found guilty of drunken-driving among other offenses by a municipal court judge in Verona. The conviction stems from an October 2020 incident; the trial was moved to Verona since she is an elected official in Belleville and lasted about four hours in late October.
Jacho, in an unusual move, took the stand in her own defense — and in doing so, quickly perjured herself by proffering false information about how this newspaper covered her 2020 arrest. Jacho testified under oath, under the punishment of perjury, The Observer, within six hours of her arrest, had her story on its front page.
Above: Audio of Jacho’s perjured testimony
Jacho was arrested Oct. 21, 2020 — a Wednesday.
That edition of this once-a-week newspaper went to print/bed Monday, Oct. 19, 2020.
In reality, The Observer published the story of her arrest on the front page of the Nov. 4, 2020, edition, two weeks — 336 hours, not six hours — after she was arrested. She also lied on the stand by claiming under oath The Observer published a YouTube video of her arrest the same day she was arrested.
And while The Observer did, indeed, publish said video, it was not until Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020 — about 168 hours after she was arrested.
Her testimony also revealed she’s not particularly in tune with the newspapers that cover her township.
“I mean, The Observer is not even my county,” Jacho said of The Observer, that has covered Belleville for more than 40 years.
It is not clear whether the prosecutor or judge are aware of Jacho’s perjury.
Meanwhile, when she initially took the stand, Jacho claimed she was barred by police from removing her high heels — and thus was unable to properly perform field-sobriety tests the police ordered, facts disputed by testifying officers.
“I could not do it,” she said.
She told the court she did not refuse to take the tests, despite contrary testimony from several police officer. A few officers from Belleville and one, an off-duty Kearny officer who had been inside the pub, Michael’s Roscommon House, 531 Joralemon St., in front of which the arrest took place, were at the scene.
In attempt to explain her alleged “drunkenness,” Jacho told a story about overusing hand sanitizer. That day, she said, she was going round town to deliver campaign signs. And, after each interaction, she would rub alcohol-based sanitizer on her hands, since in October 2020, we were in the midst of the height of the pandemic.
Since she was putting her mask on and off, that’s why there was an odor of alcohol surrounding her — not because she’d been drinking, she claimed.
She also told a story about how she received alarming news from her son that he was dropping out of college in favor or working full-time at United Parcel Service not too long before she pulled the car over. She said the news from her son led her to park her vehicle because she was having a “panic attack” and was having difficulty breathing.
When police got to her car, which was parked in front of a hydrant and sticking out into the street, they were arriving to the results of said panic attack and subsequent pullover — not to a drunken driver, she said.
Throughout the trial, the public defender attempted to assert Jacho’s arrest was politically motivated, something neither the judge nor the prosecutor, bought. One way she tried to assert the conspiracy against her was to claim because there was an off-duty Kearny cop on-scene, and the story appeared in The Observer, it had to be a conspiracy.
Nothing of the sort ever happened. But the great concoction appears to stem from Jacho also not realizing The Observer has covered Belleville for more decades.
Clearly, nonetheless, the judge didn’t buy any of this testimony — and he was, in fact, fairly amazed Jacho didn’t face additional charges for resisting arrest, etc.
“You are under oath ma’am … In order to respond to your objection (to dismiss — denied) there has to be some credible evidence. I mean, there’s no assault charge in this case. We saw the video. We saw the video. I am shocked that there is not a criminal charge in this matter and I am shocked that those Belleville police officers stood outside that vehicle and had that soliloquy with your client. It shocks the conscience of the court they were so patient,” Judge John A. Paparazzo, the sitting Verona Municipal Court judge who heard the case, said in the middle of Jacho’s testimony.
Jacho also claimed she was never asked to take an Alcotest in police headquarters and that she never claimed she didn’t speak English. That was an issue during her arrest where she could be heard, on video, saying she didn’t understand instructions police were giving to her in English.
Jacho speaks fluent English.
She said she ingested no alcoholic beverages or prescription medication the day she was arrested. Instead, she said she learned, on Oct. 22, she tested positive for COVID-19. It’s not clear whether that information was being used in her defense.
As soon as direct examination ended and Prosecutor Brian Mason offered his first inquiry on cross examination, Jacho appeared to forget she was on a witness stand and had to answer his questions. Mason asked her what her highest level of education was — and Jacho took exception to it.
Paparazzo reminded Jacho) she must answer the question as he did before warning her this could happen by taking the stand — and though she eventually did answer, she tried to weasel her way out of it.
Paparazzo also told Jacho if she didn’t answer, she’d be held in contempt, something he’d much prefer not to have to do.
She eventually answered by noting she had a bachelor’s degree from Seton Hall University.
Apparently, her political detractors have often questioned whether she has such a degree.
Further on in cross, Jacho claimed she was a political target because one police officer told her “he had to do his job just like she had to do her job.”
That line, she said, was enough to prove her arrest was politically motivated.
“If he didn’t know me, how did he know I had a job and was a teacher?” she barked back.
The judge’s verdict
Paparazzo, in rendering his verdict, said he found all of prosecution’s witnesses — all of the officers involved in the arrest, including the off-duty Kearny cop — to be credible. The witnesses, he said, “were consistent” and didn’t change their stories.
He also said the video of the arrest told the story and facts of what happened back in 2020 valuably. It proved her defense was invalid, he said. It also proved, he said, the police officers who were sent to the scene acted professionally and properly.
“She was a person who was extremely intoxicated and that was clear from the video,” Paparazzo said. “I find her credibility to be totally incredible. I find her statements that there is a concerted effort to target her … there is not one iota of evidence in this case to indicate that she was targeted.
“…She was not going to do anything (they said) that day. If they told her to go home, I don’t think she would have left. She was not going to listen to anybody.”
Jacho was “uncooperative from the get-go,” Paparazzo said. “She would not open the door, she would not get out.”
Paparazzo also said that even if there wasn’t a single piece of testimony from the officers on the scene, the video of the arrest, alone, was enough to prove her guilt.
“It is so obvious to a third party, a judge, or anyone who looked at that video, they’d say this person is either highly intoxicated or is mentally ill,” Paparazzo said. “It’s that bad. “This video should be used to train new recruits as to how police officers should just back off if you get into a situation.”
Paparazzo also concluded officers clearly smelled alcohol — and not hand sanitizer — on her breath.
In all, she was found guilty of drunken driving, refusal to submit to an Alcotest and failure to exhibit her documents (driver’s license, registration and insurance.) Failure to exhibit carries a $157 fine and $30 court costs. Drunken driving carries a $407 fine and $33 court costs. A $225 DWI surcharge was also assessed, as was a $50 violent-crimes fee. Her driver’s license was suspended indefinitely until she can prove she installed an ignition-interlocking device on her vehicle which must remain in place for 15 months.
The refusal carries a $507 fine and $33 court costs and an additional $100 surcharge.
Learn more about the writer ...
Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.