Toms River Man Indicted After Throwing Smoke Bombs, Pepper Spraying People

The Office of the Attorney General and the Division of Criminal Justice today announced that a state grand jury returned an indictment against an Ocean County man who allegedly threw smoke bombs into a crowd and attempted to pepper spray attendees of an anti-racism concert at Trinity Episcopal Parish in Asbury Park in January.

Nicholas G. Mucci, 28, of Toms River, was indicted for aggravated arson (2nd degree); two counts of causing or risking widespread injury or damage (2nd degree); two counts of possession of a destructive device (3rd degree); unlawful possession of a weapon (4th degree); two counts of possession of a weapon for unlawful purposes (3rd degree), two counts of aggravated assault (3rd degree); two counts of terroristic threats (3rd degree); possession of an assault firearm (2nd degree); possession of a large capacity ammunition magazine; and hindering (3rd degree).

Mucci was arrested in March and is being held at the Monmouth County Jail, after the court determined he posed a danger to the community, and ordered him detained pending trial.

“The rich diversity of cultures, religions, and ideals in New Jersey is one of our State’s greatest strengths and what had brought celebrants to Trinity Parish at the time of the alleged attack,” said First Assistant Attorney General Lyndsay V. Ruotolo. “This indictment demonstrates our commitment to protecting all members of our community and enforcing the rights of all New Jerseyans to live free from the threat of violence and fear.”

“The defendant’s alleged actions in this case intentionally created a risk of serious harm to members of our community,” said Director of the Division of Criminal Justice J. Stephen Ferketic. “This indictment is an important step in holding the defendant accountable and deterring similar acts of violence and intimidation.”

The incident occurred on January 27, 2023, 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 p.m., 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 three 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-circuit video camera, showed a vehicle resembling Mucci’s SUV approaching the church and two items being thrown from the driver’s side. 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 p.m., the same vehicle entered the church parking lot where a few remaining concertgoers 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 the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness and DCJ narrowed in on Mucci as the suspect of the attack, after license plate readers placed Mucci’s vehicle in the area around the time of the concert. Cell phone records obtained during the investigation showed 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 to make the purchase.

Search warrants executed at Mucci’s home revealed an AR-style assault rifle, several large capacity ammunition magazines, and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. “White Lives Matter” and other white nationalist propaganda were also recovered in both his home and vehicle, along with the bear spray used in the attack. Mucci made several social media posts about the incident, including a video that depicts him driving while recapping the events of the attack, including how the bear spray he released at the concertgoers burned his eyes.

Deputy Attorney General Amy Sieminski presented the case to the grand jury for the Division of Criminal Justice, under the supervision of Deputy Director Theresa Hilton.

The investigation was led by New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness Deputy Chief Jason Krayl and Sgt. James Fry of OHSP Operations under the leadership of Director Laurie Doran, with assistance from Division of Criminal Justice Detectives John Ronaghan, David Reiff, Pete Appleman and Matthew Puma, under the supervision of Chief Weldon Powell of DCJ.

The following agencies provided valuable support: Federal Bureau of Investigation, New Jersey State Police, Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office, Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office, Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office, Ocean County Sheriff’s Office, Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office, Wall Police Department, Toms River Police Department, and Berkeley Township Police Department.

Second-degree charges carry a sentence of five to ten years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000. Third-degree charges carry a sentence of three to five years in state prison and a fine of up to $15,000. Fourth-degree crimes carry a sentence of up to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

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