Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin and the Division of Criminal Justice announced the arrest of an Ocean County man charged with throwing smoke bombs into a crowd and attempting to pepper spray people leaving an anti-racism concert at the Trinity Episcopal Parish in Asbury Park in January.
Nicholas G. Mucci, 28, of Toms River, is charged with causing or risking widespread injury or damage (2nd degree), possession of a weapon (explosives) for unlawful purposes (2nd degree), arson (3rd degree), aggravated assault (3rd degree), terroristic threats (3rd degree), and possession of a destructive device (3rd degree).
Mucci was arrested Saturday night by investigators from the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness (NJOHSP) under the leadership of Director Laurie Doran, detectives from the Division of Criminal Justice under the leadership of Chief Weldon Powell, and troopers from the New Jersey State Police under the leadership of Colonel Patrick Callahan, with assistance from the Federal Bureau of Investigations under the leadership of Special Agent in Charge James Dennehy. Mucci is being held at the Monmouth County Jail pending a detention hearing.
“New Jersey is, and always will be, a state that values the rich diversity of all cultures, religions, and ideals. This attack targeted people exercising their freedom of expression as they left a house of worship,” said Attorney General Platkin. “Our perseverance in investigating and bringing to justice the person responsible for this attack demonstrates our commitment to protecting the rights of all New Jerseyans to live free from the threat of violence and fear.”
“The alleged actions of this defendant presented a clear risk to the public that could have ended in tragedy,” said Director Pearl Minato of the Division of Criminal Justice. “I commend the members of law enforcement for their collaborative work in identifying and apprehending the defendant, who will now face justice for his alleged crimes.”
“This investigation was a great example of outstanding teamwork and collaboration among all levels of government,” said Director Laurie Doran, of the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness. “I am proud of the men and women of NJOHSP and all of our partner agencies who protected the residents of New Jersey by successfully mitigating this serious threat.”
The incident occurred on Jan. 27, during a concert at the Trinity Episcopal Parish on Asbury Avenue in Asbury Park. The concert was organized by a group known as the “One People’s Project”, which bills itself as an anti-racism, social justice organization.
According to the charges and documents filed in the case, at around 9 pm, as the concert was ending, Mucci, wearing a black face covering approached the church and blocked the attendees from leaving. He allegedly yelled, “White lives matter, too,” and threw two smoke bombs toward the church and into the exiting crowd before driving off in a dark colored SUV. Surveillance video of the event, captured by the church’s closed caption video camera, showed a vehicle resembling Mucci’s SUV approach the church and two items being thrown from the driver’s side of the vehicle. As smoke began filling the air and the crowd became visibly alarmed, the vehicle rapidly sped away.
Witnesses reported seeing a dark colored vehicle circling the church following the incident. Shortly after 10:00 p.m., the same vehicle entered the church parking lot where a few remaining concert-goers still gathered. Mucci, still clad in a black face covering, allegedly exited the vehicle and attempted to pepper spray the group while again shouting, “White lives matter.” He then allegedly got back into his vehicle and left.
An investigation by NJOHSP and DCJ determined that a license plate reader installed in the area, identified a vehicle matching the description of a car known to be operated by Mucci as having been present when the incident occurred. Cell phone records obtained during the investigation, indicated that Mucci’s cell phone had “gone dark” during the time of the incident. Additionally, physical evidence recovered at the scene determined that the smoke bombs were purchased from a fireworks store in Morrisville, PA. The investigation revealed that Mucci allegedly purchased identical items from the store on October 23, 2022 and provided out-of-state photo identification in order to make the purchase.
Deputy Attorney General Amy Sieminski is prosecuting the case for the Division of Criminal Justice, under the supervision of Deputy Directors Theresa Hilton and Erik Daab.
The investigation was led by NJOHSP Sergeant James Fry, of the OHSP Operations with assistance from Detectives John Ronaghan, David Reiff and Pete Appleman as main case agents, under the supervision of Lt. Jason Krayl of NJOHSP.
The following agencies provided valuable support, the Federal Bureau of Investigations, the New Jersey State Police, the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office, the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office, the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office, the Ocean County Sheriff’s Office, the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office, the Wall Police Department, the Toms River Police Department, and the Berkeley Township Police Department.
Second-degree charges carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000. Third-degree charges carry a sentence of three of five years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000.
The charges are merely accusations and the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.