NEWARK, NJ — LGBTQ advocates and family members of Ashley Moore, a 26-year-old transgender woman found dead outside the city’s YMCA on April 1, are taking Newark Public Safety officials to task after months of inaction in determining Moore's actual cause of death.
Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose ordered the reopening of Moore’s case for review by Essex County Prosecutor’s Office on Wednesday, although Moore's death was officially ruled a suicide. He did not elaborate on the reason for the review but stood by detectives' initial findings.
“And to date, our detectives have not discovered evidence to the contrary. However, I have reached out to Essex County Prosecutor Theodore Stephens and requested a review of Ms. Moore’s death by the county’s Homicide Task Force,” Director Ambrose added.
But the process of getting officials to reexamine the case, to Moore’s family and Beatrice Simpkins, Executive Director of the Newark LGBTQ Center, reveals to them, they said, a lack of concern for transgender individuals by Newark Police Department.
Starlet Carbins, Moore's mother, told LGBTQ activist Jasmine Singer in an August 6 interview that she didn't learn about her daughter's death until she went to wish Moore a happy birthday on Facebook nine days later. It wasn’t long after that Carbins, a travel nurse who lives in Massachusetts, discovered Moore had been staying at homeless shelters and living as a woman in Newark, information she had kept from her family.
At the time of her death, she was paying rent at working at the YMCA, Simpkins told TAPinto Newark.
No one at NPD attempted to contact her regarding her daughter’s death, Carbins said. In addition, the circumstances police later told her about her daughter’s death changed several times and were inconsistent with the incident report she received on July 31.
Initially, police told Carbins that Moore, who was found at 4:10 a.m., had been struck by a car, but later said she could have fallen from a high place, suggesting a suicide. Bystander testimony on the report that Carbins later received said Moore was seen running from her apartment down a flight of stairs rather than up to a roof or somewhere she could have jumped.
The injuries on the incident report listed ligature and strangulation marks as well as rectal bleeding, suggesting Moore may have been raped, Carbin said.
“The police were kind of leading us and the family in one direction, but when I got the report, the report said something entirely different,” Carbins said. “There was no investigation and no evidence. Just opinions and conjecture.”
A spokeswoman for Newark Public Safety told TAPinto Newark that police followed proper protocol in responding to the incident.
"It's unfortunate, but sometimes it does take us some time to find a next of kin," the spokeswoman said.
Simpkins, who works with a team of Newark police liaisons to ensure best practices, was shocked and disappointed to learn that no one from the department had acted to involve her liaisons or organization in the death of a young, black trans woman. Simpkins' relationship with the department is part of a 2016 consent decree, which includes training and measures to improve relations between police and the Newark community.
According to Simpkins, police did not pull traffic camera footage until two months later, she contacted one of her liaisons upon learning of Moore’s death in June. A review of the footage immediately ruled out the theory that she was hit by a car.
Simpkins said that Ambrose’s assertion that no evidence has been found contrary to NPD’s ruling of Moore’s death as a suicide is disingenuous.
“I think they took the easy route out, and I don’t think there’s any contrary evidence at all because they didn’t really do any investigating,” she said. “Of course there wouldn’t be any contrary evidence, you haven’t tried to find any.”
The Newark LGBTQ Center has issued letters to the Department of Public Safety, Newark Police Department, the Newark YMCA, the city’s corporate counsel and others requesting to protect and preserve all the evidence, including body cameras for the responding officers, interviews, all physical evidence and traffic cameras.
A spokesman for the city initially responded to TAPinto’s requests for comment on Moore’s case saying that it was a public safety matter, but the city has since issued a statement from Mayor Ras Baraka.
“We believe the police followed all necessary policies and procedures around Ashley Moore’s death, but the handling of the case has raised concerns of her family and the LGBTQ community,” Baraka said. “We fully expect to inform them of our police actions and answer any lingering questions they may have about Ms. Moore’s death to the absolute best of our ability.”
Singer and the Newark LGBTQ Center are raising funds to cover legal fees for the family. As of Thursday, more than $7,000 have been donated.