Hackensack residents were warned to be alert as police hunted for a man who randomly approached and punched three others Monday night in what may be the first local incidents of “the knockout game.” The activity has resulted in one North Jersey death and plagued urban areas nationwide.
The three separate, sudden assaults took place within 15 minutes and involved the same man, who appeared to be acting alone, police said.
The knockout game typically involves a strolling group, with one person suddenly punching a passer-by and another recording video to display on a social media site. “Someone just walks up and cold-cocks someone in the face totally unannounced, totally unprovoked,” city police Capt. Thomas Salcedo said while detailing the local incidents.
He said that the assailant was described as a 6-foot-tall or taller black man with an athletic build who was wearing a black V-neck short-sleeved T-shirt, black pants and a Brooklyn Nets cap. The incidents all took place in the areas of Essex Street, Summit Avenue and Beech Street, Salcedo said, and the victims were two men in their 50s and another in his 20s. None of the men was seriously injured.
The knockout game’s notoriety and base violence led almost a dozen state lawmakers to sponsor five bills late last year to toughen penalties for people who play it. In response to those initiatives, which are still pending, the State Police and the state Attorney General’s Office said they have not seen the violent game as a growing problem in New Jersey.
A 14-year-old was sentenced last week to six years in a juvenile detention center for punching a 46-year-old homeless man in Hoboken last year. The man died. The 14-year-old had been among three teenagers who approached the man; the other two teens received probation.
Police said the first victim Monday night, a 54-year-old East Orange man, was punched in the face and fell in the Simon’s Market parking lot on Essex Street at 10:35 p.m. Salcedo said the man sustained a large facial cut, but that police don’t know if it was from the punch or the fall.
About 10 minutes later, the assailant ran up behind a 57-year-old city man at Summit Avenue and Beech Street and punched him from behind, hitting him on the right side of his face and jaw, Salcedo said.
Just 100 feet from that spot and three minutes later, the suspect approached a 27-year-old city man and asked for directions, Salcedo said. While the victim looked at his phone, the man punched him “square in the face.”