HILLSBOROUGH TOWNSHIP, NJ (Somerset County) — A state grand jury has voted not to file any criminal charges at the conclusion of its deliberations regarding the death of Joshua Mathis, 19, of Hillsborough Township, who was fatally shot by Hillsborough Police Officer Christopher Michaels.
Mathis’s death was investigated by the Attorney General’s Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA) and presented to New Jersey residents serving on the grand jury in accordance with the Independent Prosecutor Directive of 2019.
In July 2021, OPIA issued standard operating procedures (SOPs) to ensure these grand jury presentations are conducted in a neutral, objective manner, with appropriate transparency regarding the process, consistent with the directive.
The investigation included a review of 911 calls, footage from a Conducted Energy Device (“CED”) and several body-worn cameras, photographs, interviews of law enforcement and civilian witnesses, as well as autopsy results from the medical examiner.
This evidence was presented to a state grand jury. After hearing the testimony and evidence, the grand jury finished its deliberations Monday, August 14, and voted “no bill,” meaning the grand jury concluded no criminal charges should be filed against Officer Michaels.
According to the investigation, on January 9, 2022, at around 6:12 p.m., officers of the Hillsborough Police Department responded to Corporal Langon Way following two 911 calls made by Mathis, who stated he had a gun and would kill anyone that came near him.
A third 911 call was made by a female resident who indicated the individual had a knife in his hand. Officers encountered Mathis inside an apartment. He was holding a knife and told officers that if they did not shoot him, he was going to charge at them in 30 seconds.
During the encounter, Mathis also took out an imitation gun from his waistband, which he threw to the floor. Despite the officers’ attempts to verbally de-escalate the situation, Mathis advanced toward the officers with the knife in his hand less than 90 seconds after officers entered the apartment. Officer Michaels deployed his CED, but Mr. Mathis continued to advance at the officers with the knife in his hand.
A separate Hillsborough officer equipped with a ballistics shield attempted to knock Mathis to the ground, but Mr. Mathis remained on his feet. Mathis was within arm’s length of a third officer, swinging the knife, when Officer Michaels fired his service weapon, fatally wounding Mr. Mathis. Although police and emergency medical personnel rendered medical aid, he was pronounced deceased at the scene at 6:51 p.m.
A 2019 law, P.L. 2019, c. 1, requires the Attorney General’s Office to conduct investigations of a person’s death that occurs during an encounter with a law enforcement officer acting in the officer’s official capacity or while the decedent is in custody. It requires that all such investigations be presented to a grand jury to determine if the evidence supports the return of an indictment against the officer or officers involved. The grand jury is instructed on the elements of the potential criminal offenses, including criminal homicide offenses, that could be brought and, as required by statutes, the grand jury is instructed on self-defense and other forms of legal justification.
A conflicts check was conducted pursuant to the Independent Prosecutor Directive and no actual or potential conflict of interest was found involving any individual assigned to the investigation. Prior to presentation to the grand jury, the investigation was reviewed by OPIA Executive Director Thomas Eicher in accordance with the policies and procedures established for these presentations in the SOPs.
At the conclusion of these investigations, pursuant to the Independent Prosecutor Directive and SOPs, OPIA determines whether any principal should be referred to the appropriate law enforcement agency for administrative review in accordance with the AG’s Internal Affairs Policy & Procedures. OPIA monitors any resulting review and takes such actions as are necessary to ensure that the review is completed in a timely fashion, and that appropriate actions are taken based on the results of the review.