TRENTON – A state grand jury declined to file any criminal charges at the conclusion of its deliberations regarding the death of Marshall Zamor, 39, of Sicklerville, N.J., who died while in the custody of the New Jersey State Police after being arrested on a drug charge on the Atlantic City Expressway on March 29, 2017.
Because the death occurred after Zamor was arrested and while he was in police custody, it was investigated by the Attorney General’s Shooting Response Team under the Attorney General’s Directive on Police-Use-of-Force Investigations. The Shooting Response Team is made up of investigators from the Division of Criminal Justice and the New Jersey State Police Homicide Unit. After hearing testimony and evidence from the team’s investigation, the state grand jury concluded its deliberations on Dec. 14 and declined to indict any of the law enforcement officers involved in the fatal incident.
With regard to the specific factual circumstances of the incident, the investigation revealed that Zamor was stopped on the Atlantic City Expressway at approximately 10:52 a.m. on March 29 because the windows of his vehicle had illegal tinting. The trooper smelled marijuana and requested backup. Zamor was repeatedly ordered out of his car, and after refusing to obey the orders for several minutes, exited the vehicle and was arrested. The trooper walked Zamor to the rear of his car, handcuffed his hands behind his back, and searched him, but no force was used by the trooper. A probable cause search of the car revealed two suspected marijuana “blunts,” which later tested positive. Zamor was brought to the Atlantic City Expressway State Police Station, where he was placed in a holding cell pending processing on the charge of possession of marijuana. Video footage from the police vehicle revealed that Zamor was chewing on something while he was being handcuffed and as he was transported in the troop car to the station. At one point, a small white object could be seen inside Zamor’s mouth, and at another point, he leaned forward and left a streak of saliva on the partition in the vehicle, which later tested positive for cocaine.
Zamor was placed in a holding cell at the station at 11:34 a.m. Before he was placed in the cell, the trooper who arrested him searched him again, removing a hooded sweatshirt and a belt he was wearing. After about five minutes, troopers observed that Zamor was using a smart watch and had a large bulge in his cheek. Two troopers entered the cell, where they took the watch and ordered Zamor to open his mouth so they could retrieve the object. Zamor did not cooperate. The troopers tried unsuccessfully to force Zamor to open his mouth so they could remove the object. Three other troopers entered the cell to help hold Zamor against a wall, but the efforts to clear his mouth failed and the troopers left the cell. While the troopers were forceful in holding Zamor, no punches, strikes or kicks were used against him.
Zamor sat down on the bench in the cell after the troopers left. He continued to act like there was something in his mouth. At approximately 11:46 a.m., the five troopers re-entered the cell, with two wearing latex gloves. One trooper ordered Zamor to open his mouth and spit out whatever was inside. Zamor did not comply, so the troopers held Zamor while one of the gloved troopers forced Zamor’s mouth open and was able to recover some pieces of suspected crack cocaine, which later tested positive. Additional pieces remained in Zamor’s mouth, and the second trooper wearing gloves tried unsuccessfully to remove those. All five troopers left the cell after a few minutes, and Zamor sat down on the bench. Again, no force was used by the troopers during these efforts beyond the force needed to hold him and try to swipe the object from his mouth. Zamor did not appear to be in distress during or after these attempts.
Zamor continued to work his mouth and wipe his mouth as if he had something in it. After a number of minutes, he began to appear restless and uncomfortable, repeatedly leaning over a sink in the cell, where he drank water and wiped his face, his clothing and the sink with toilet paper. At one point, he put a wad of toilet paper in his mouth. At approximately 12 noon, troopers called for EMS to respond, reporting that a prisoner had ingested suspected crack cocaine. At that same time, troopers again entered the cell. Zamor was continuing to chew on something and he got up and returned to the sink. The troopers told Zamor to spit out what was in his mouth and one trooper tried to remove the objects, but Zamor continued to resist, shaking his head. Six troopers were in the cell at this time. Two troopers held Zamor against a back wall while the trooper tried to remove what was in Zamor’s mouth, and they then brought Zamor to the floor of the cell.
Zamor continued to struggle with the troopers after he was placed on the ground, and the troopers handcuffed his hands behind his back and held him down. At approximately 12:04 p.m., Zamor’s body began convulsing. The troopers rolled Zamor on his side and moved his head away from the wall during the convulsions. At 12:05 p.m., the State Police made a follow-up call to expedite the response by emergency medical personnel. After Zamor stopped convulsing, Troopers can be seen in video footage administering ammonia packs, commonly called “smelling salts,” in an effort to revive Zamor, who apparently was unconscious. The handcuffs were removed and Zamor was placed on his back. An unsuccessful attempt was made to revive Zamor with a defibrillator, and at approximately 12:09 p.m., two troopers commenced CPR compressions and breathing. They continued CPR until emergency medical personnel arrived and took over. Zamor was taken to AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center in Pomona, where he was pronounced dead at 1:13 p.m.
During the autopsy, a plastic bag was found obstructing Zamor’s larynx and a piece of suspected crack cocaine was found in his trachea. The plastic bag and suspected cocaine later tested positive. Toxicology tests revealed cocaine and a cocaine metabolite in Zamor’s blood and urine, as well as THC. There was no evidence of recent significant injuries on Zamor’s body. The Medical Examiner’s Office concluded that Zamor’s death was caused by cocaine intoxication and listed the airway obstruction as a contributory factor. The manner of death was ruled accidental.
After considering the facts, evidence and testimony from the investigation by the Attorney General’s Shooting Response Team, the state grand jury declined to return an indictment.
Under an Attorney General Directive issued in 2006 and strengthened in 2015, the Attorney General’s Shooting Response Team is dispatched to handle investigations of incidents in which a state- or county-level officer uses deadly force or there is an in-custody death involving such officers. The directive establishes strict procedures for conducting these investigations. The Shooting Response Team is made up of deputy attorneys general and detectives of the Division of Criminal Justice, as well as detectives of the State Police Homicide Unit, all of whom operate independently of their usual chain of command and report directly to the Director of the Division of Criminal Justice or a designee. All portions of the Attorney General’s Directive on Police-Use-of-Force Investigations were complied with in this case.
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