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Newark PD Stunned Over Officer's Unexplained Death

Newark PD Stunned Over Officer's Unexplained Death

The Star-Leger via YellowBrix

May 19, 2011

NEWARK — Newark police detective Natombe Simmonds was in such great shape that even the criminals he arrested had to be impressed.

Fellow detective Jermaine Marbury was with Simmonds in 2009, when their four-man squad was called to Muhammad Ali Boulevard to track down a suspected gunman. The suspect ran when he saw the officers, said Marbury, who figured the gunman would escape when he opened up a 40-yard lead on Simmonds.

But seconds later, Marbury saw Simmonds handcuffing the out-of-breath gunman, his eyes wide with shock as he faced the young detective most people called “Buck.”

“You are unbelievable, officer,” said the suspect, according to Marbury. “Any other cop and I would have had him.”

Simmonds, 24, renowned for his physical conditioning, collapsed and died while playing basketball Monday evening, sending a wave of surprise and sadness through the city police community.

“He was a very good recruit, he was physically able to do anything we tasked him with,” said Detective Hubert Henderson, a city police spokesman who trained Simmonds at the academy in 2008. “There’s no words to describe how I feel, how the majority of the officers who knew him feel.”

He was playing basketball at the police academy gym around 8 p.m when he collapsed, dying a short time later at University Hospital, authorities said. A cause of death has yet to be determined.

The city observed a moment of silence for Simmonds, who was laid off last year, during Newark’s annual police awards Tuesday afternoon.

Friends said that Simmonds was motivated to become a police officer after his brother was murdered in a gang-related incident in 2004.

“He wanted to be part of the positive solution,” said Marbury, who graduated the academy with Simmonds, and like him, was laid off last year. He is now on the Morristown police force.

Spurred on by his brother’s murder, Marbury said, Simmonds was a top recruit in the academy and was quickly chosen as one of only a handful of recruit “squad leaders.” On the streets, he was a fierce officer often praised for his ability to chase down fleeing suspects.

“Simmonds never lost nobody,” said former officer Rafael Reyes, part of Simmonds’ squad in the West Ward and who was also laid off.

A Newark native, Simmonds grew up in the South Ward before attending Essex County Vocational Tech High School with Marbury, who said Simmonds was a role model for other people living in the hardscrabble neighborhood. According to former fellow officers, he leaves behind his mother and a sister.

“The residents in Newark, they looked to Buck as the kid who made it,” Marbury said.

Officer Jared Stewart said hundreds of tearful family members, former officers, and friends flooded the hospital when news of Simmonds’ collapse began to circulate.

“He touched a lot of people,” Stewart said. “Everybody knew him. The word spread fast.”

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