|TRENTON – In compliance with the Attorney General’s Directive on Police-Use-of-Force Investigations, this public statement is being issued on the findings of the investigation into an incident on the Garden State Parkway in Galloway Township on June 25, 2016 in which a state trooper shot the tire of a driver who drove toward the trooper and refused to obey orders to stop her vehicle.
Under the Attorney General’s Directive on Police-Use-of-Force Investigations, the incident was investigated by the Attorney General’s Shooting Response Team, made up of investigators from the Division of Criminal Justice and the New Jersey State Police Major Crime Unit. As a result of the investigation, Director Elie Honig of the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice determined that presentation of the police-involved shooting to a grand jury was not required under the directive, because the undisputed material facts showed that the use of force was justifiable under the law. The investigation included witness interviews and forensic analysis of the scene and other evidence.
The law enforcement officer involved was a trooper assigned to the New Jersey State Police Canine Unit. Neither the trooper nor the female driver, who is a 27-year-old New Jersey resident, suffered any serious injuries from this incident.
With regard to the specific factual circumstances of the incident, the investigation revealed that at approximately 8:06 p.m., near milepost 39, a civilian tow truck driver passed a Toyota Corolla stopped in the right lane on the northbound side of the Garden State Parkway. The car had no lights on and appeared to be disabled. The car was occupied by the lone female driver. The tow truck driver was unable to stop because of traffic, so he continued north intending to circle back to assist the driver. He called State Police dispatch to inform them about the disabled car and request assistance from any available trooper. While the tow truck driver was making his loop, the trooper involved in this incident came across the Toyota on the northbound parkway. The trooper radioed an update to State Police dispatch that the driver “stopped short” on him while he was trying to see if she needed help, meaning her car was moving when he pulled beside her, but she stopped suddenly, causing him to drive past her.
By this time, the tow truck driver had circled around and found the trooper’s SUV and the Toyota. Both vehicles were stopped in the grass of the center median near milepost 40.3. The trooper’s SUV, an unmarked K-9 vehicle, was parked in front of the Toyota with the emergency lights activated. As the tow truck driver pulled into the median and parked behind the Toyota, the trooper was walking from his troop car toward the Toyota. The trooper was wearing the State Police olive green jumpsuit style uniform. There were olive green police insignia on the uniform. He was also wearing his utility belt with his weapon, extra ammunition, and handcuffs. The trooper was carrying his radio in his hand. The tow truck driver activated his own amber emergency lights, parked behind the Toyota, and approached the car to ask the driver if she needed help.
The woman’s window was up, but the rear driver’s side window of the Toyota was rolled down. The tow truck driver called out to the woman and asked if she needed help. The woman then drove toward the trooper from about three car lengths away. The trooper drew his weapon, pointed it at the car, and yelled for the driver to stop. The car stopped, but it was so close to the trooper that he had to place his hands on the hood of the car and dropped his radio in the gap between the hood and windshield.
The trooper then moved to the driver’s side of the car and attempted to get the driver out. The driver’s door was locked, so the trooper reached in through the open rear window to try to open the driver’s door. The Toyota then moved backwards a short distance while the trooper was reaching inside the rear driver’s side window. The woman then drove forward, bumping the trooper away from the moving car. The trooper then fired three shots at the driver’s side rear tire of the Toyota. The tow truck driver, standing a few feet behind the Toyota during the entire encounter, witnessed the shots being fired.
The female driver then drove the Toyota north on the shoulder. The trooper ran back to his SUV to pursue the Toyota. The trooper and Toyota drove a short distance north on the left shoulder of the parkway. The female driver then stopped her car and the trooper managed to get her out of the Toyota through the passenger door and place her under arrest. After she was handcuffed, she repeatedly said that she was lost, did not understand what was happening, and just needed directions.
The trooper radioed for back-up. Responding troopers took custody of the female driver and oversaw the towing of the Toyota to the State Police Galloway Station. Crime scene investigators processed the scene of the shooting. They found three spent 9mm shell casings in the center median of the parkway. The recovered shell casings were forensically matched to the trooper’s duty weapon. There were no tire impressions or marks on the ground due to the dry conditions. A search warrant was obtained for the Toyota. The driver’s side rear tire was removed for testing of two suspected bullet strikes. Both strikes tested positive for lead. Bullet fragments were also found inside the tire.
Once back at the station, the female driver continued to state that she did not understand what was happening and that she was only lost and was trying to find her way home. She also had trouble answering simple biographical questions. The Shooting Response Team did not attempt to interview her then because of her apparent confusion. Believing she might be intoxicated, investigators administered an alcohol breath test. The results from the Alcotest machine were 0.00%. Blood testing later conducted under a search warrant confirmed this result. The female driver was hospitalized following the incident and was interviewed several days later after being released. She maintained that she was stopped on the parkway because she was lost and trying to use her phone for directions. She stated that she did not realize the trooper was a law enforcement officer at first and did not see any emergency lights until she was already stopped in the center median. She admitted that she drove away from the trooper and heard gunshots after he first tried to pull her from the car.
This matter was reviewed by Director Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice and all portions of the Attorney General’s Directive on Police-Use-of-Force Investigations were complied with.
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