WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP, NJ (Warren County) – The Warren County Prosecutor’s Office has completed its investigation into the July 25, 2019, use of force by a Washington Township Police Department police officer, and has concluded that the use of force was legally justified, according to acting Warren County Prosecutor James Pfeiffer.
The prosecutor’s office determined that it was not necessary to present this to the Grand Jury because there were no material facts in dispute regarding the lawfulness of the use of force, Pfeiffer said.
The investigation was conducted in accordance with the applicable Attorney General’s Independent Prosecutor Directives (July 28, 2015 Attorney General Supplemental Law Enforcement Directive Regarding Uniform Statewide Procedures and Best Practices for Conducting Police Use of Force Investigations and the Independent Prosecutor Directive 2019-4), Pfeiffer said.
“Pursuant to the directives, the Attorney General’s Office conducted an independent review of the use of force and agreed with the prosecutor’s office determination that there were no material facts in dispute and that the use of force by the Officer was justified,” Pfeiffer said.
The Attorney General’s Office agreed with the prosecutor’s office conclusion to forego presentation of this matter to the Grand Jury. Because this was a non-fatal shooting, presentation to the grand jury was not required under Senate Bill 1036 and requires the Attorney General to conduct investigations of fatal police encounters and present the them to the Grand Jury, Pfeiffer said.
On July 25, 2019, Washington Township police responded to a residence in Washington Township for a 911 call of a man physically assaulting a female. When the officers arrived, they observed a female fitting the description of the woman being assaulted fleeing the scene in a vehicle, Pfeiffer said.
While officers attempted to follow the fleeing vehicle, one officer remained at the scene in an attempt to locate the male suspect. The officer encountered the man inside the residence, attempted to place him under arrest, and in that attempt the man assaulted the officer, Pfeiffer said.
While assaulting the officer, he disarmed the officer. The officer was later able to gain control of their weapon and fired one shot at the man, striking him in the abdomen, Pfeiffer said.
He was taken to a nearby hospital with non-fatal injuries, Pfeiffer said.
The Prosecutor’s Office Major Crime Unit responded and investigated. They were assisted by the New Jersey State Police Crime Scene North Unit.
Additionally, statements were taken from the officer involved as well as a civilian witness. The statements were consistent with each other and with the physical evidence recovered at the scene, Pfeiffer said.
Applying the directive to the undisputed material facts outlined, the use of force by the officer was justified pursuant to Use of Force in Self-Protection, Pfeiffer said.
The statute states that “the use of force upon or toward another person is justifiable when the actor reasonably believes that such force is immediately necessary for the purpose of protecting himself against the use of unlawful force by such other person on the present occasion,” Pfeiffer said.
The law defines a “reasonable belief” as one which would be held by a person of ordinary prudence and intelligence situated as the actor was.
The Officer was in fear for their life when the subject was able to disarm the Officer of their weapon. Once the Officer regained control of their weapon, the Officer reasonably believed under the circumstances that discharging their weapon was necessary for the protection of their life, Pfeiffer said.
An independent analysis of the undisputed material facts led to the determination that the Officer’s beliefs were in fact reasonable, and the use of force in this matter was justified pursuant to all applicable laws and the Attorney General Guidelines, Pfeiffer said.