TRENTON – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced that a Camden County man pleaded guilty to aggravated assault charges for firing a handgun at a motorist and pointing the gun at a state trooper, causing the trooper to fire at him, during an incident in Buena, N.J., on May 2, 2018. Nobody was injured in the shootings, and a state grand jury found the state trooper was justified in his actions.
Luis Figueroa, 29, of Blackwood, N.J., pleaded guilty late yesterday to a charge of second-degree aggravated assault for firing at the motorist and a charge of third-degree aggravated assault for pointing the handgun at the state trooper. He also pleaded guilty to third-degree possession of heroin with intent to distribute. Figueroa pleaded guilty before Superior Court Judge Bernard E. DeLury Jr. in Atlantic County. Sentencing for Figueroa is scheduled for July 12.
Under the plea agreement, the state will recommend an aggregate sentence of 10 years in state prison, including seven years and nine months of parole ineligibility. Specifically, the state will recommend that Figueroa be sentenced to five years in prison – including four years and three months of parole ineligibility – for firing at the motorist, consecutive to a sentence of five years – including three years and six months of parole ineligibility – for pointing the gun at the state trooper. The state will recommend a three-year concurrent sentence on the drug charge.
Deputy Attorney General Rachael Weeks prosecuted the case and took the guilty plea for the Attorney General’s Shooting Response Team.
“By opening fire on a motorist and pointing a gun at a state trooper, Figueroa demonstrated that he is a violent man who poses a serious danger to the community as well as law enforcement officers,” said Attorney General Grewal. “This guilty plea will ensure that he serves a lengthy prison sentence.”
“It is fortunate that the State Police were able to stop Figueroa and that his violent actions did not result in someone being killed or seriously injured,” said Director Veronica Allende of the Division of Criminal Justice. “Our strong criminal laws provide mandatory periods of parole ineligibility for violent crimes and crimes involving guns, and we are using those laws to ensure that this defendant remains safely behind bars.”
“The violent and reckless actions of Figueroa posed an immediate threat to everyone in his vicinity and this incident could have easily taken a tragic turn,” said Colonel Patrick Callahan of the New Jersey State Police. ‘Thanks to the bravery and decisive actions of Trooper Montgomery, Figueroa’s acts of violence ultimately ended with his arrest and imminent prison sentence.”
Under the Attorney General’s Independent Prosecutor Directive, the use of deadly force by the state trooper was investigated by the Attorney General’s Shooting Response Team (“SRT”), made up of investigators from the Division of Criminal Justice and New Jersey 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. On Nov. 14, 2018, a state grand jury heard testimony and evidence from the SRT’s investigation into the police-involved shooting and voted “no true bill,” finding that the state trooper, Trooper Scott Montgomery, was justified in firing at Figueroa and declining to file any charges against the state trooper.
Figueroa was staying at the Rodeway Inn on Tuckahoe Road in Buena prior to the shootings. Shortly after 1 p.m. on May 2, 2018, Figueroa allegedly fired multiple rounds from a handgun in the hotel parking lot. He fired one round at a hotel employee as the male employee drove into the parking lot. Figueroa was involved in a dispute with another man and apparently believed mistakenly that the driver was that man. The shot missed the driver and his car. Figueroa then walked out to Wheat Road, where he pointed the gun at a second man, a motorist driving on the roadway. No shots were fired at that time.
The second victim drove to a nearby Wawa store on South Harding Highway, where he told a gas attendant that there was a man walking around with a gun. Another Wawa customer also reported seeing a man with a gun. At 1:10 p.m., the Franklin Township Police Department received a call of shots fired at the Wawa. Officers from the New Jersey State Police, Franklin Township Police Department, and Vineland Police Department responded to the scene. They quickly determined that the shots were fired at the Rodeway Inn, not the Wawa, and that the shooter fled on foot.
Trooper Montgomery arrived at the hotel with the lights and sirens of his marked patrol car activated. After checking the hotel, he drove around the area looking for the suspected shooter. He located Figueroa near the Cranberry Run retirement community and noted that Figueroa fit the description of the shooter. Trooper Montgomery, who was in uniform, exited his patrol car, stood behind the door, and ordered Figueroa to stop and show his hands. Instead, Figueroa fled toward a wooded area.
Prior to the trooper’s arrival, an employee of the retirement community encountered Figueroa and learned that Figueroa was armed with a handgun. As Trooper Montgomery pursued Figueroa toward the woods, he encountered that employee, who warned him that Figueroa had a handgun. Trooper Montgomery radioed his location and said he was in a foot pursuit. Trooper Montgomery shouted commands for Figueroa to stop and get on the ground, but Figueroa continued to run away. Once Figueroa reached the tree line, he turned to face Trooper Montgomery head on and pointed the handgun at him with both hands on the gun. Trooper Montgomery immediately unholstered his service weapon and fired three rounds at Figueroa. Figueroa was not hit by any of the rounds. Trooper Montgomery reported that he fired because he believed his life was in danger.
After the shots were fired by Trooper Montgomery, Figueroa turned and ran into the wooded area. Trooper Montgomery followed and caught up to Figueroa, who had fallen down. Trooper Montgomery handcuffed Figueroa and waited for back up. During a search incident to the arrest, officers recovered a stolen Keltec 9mm handgun from Figueroa, as well as a small handbag containing approximately .32 ounces of heroin mixed with fentanyl and approximately .18 ounces of cocaine. When a search warrant was executed at the hotel room where Figueroa was staying, detectives found a scale, latex gloves and packaging materials, including wax folds and baggies. They also found a bag of white powder, which tested negative for narcotics and apparently was being used as a cutting agent.
Defense Attorney: Stephen F. Funk, Esq., Atlantic City, N.J.