A grand jury indicted a Newark police officer on Tuesday on charges that he repeatedly shot at a fleeing vehicle during a chase, killing the driver and wounding a passenger.
According to the Essex County prosecutor, the 26-year-old officer, Jovanny Crespo, fired at the fleeing vehicle at three separate locations during the Jan. 28 pursuit, after the driver, Gregory C. Griffin, 46, sped off from a traffic stop.
Grand jury indicts Newark police officers in deadly shooting
The indictment comes three months after both the Essex County prosecutor and the Newark public safety director said they had serious concerns about the officers conduct during the chase and suspended him without pay.
The action taken by the grand jury marks a rare indictment of a police officer amid a national debate over policing and the use of lethal force, particularly against African-American men.
In Ferguson, Mo., a grand jury declined to indict an officer who shot Michael Brown. In Minnesota, a jury acquitted an officer accused of shooting Philando Castile. In Louisiana, the Justice Department declined to bring charges in the shooting of Alton B. Sterling.
“He showed a reckless disregard for human life for shooting into a moving vehicle – a vehicle which had heavily tinted windows,” says Stephens.
A release sent out late Tuesday by the county prosecutor said this is the first fatal police-involved shooting to result in an indictment in Essex County in recent memory.
Mr. Crespo was charged on Tuesday with six counts, announced during a news conference on Tuesday evening, including aggravated manslaughter. Mr. Crespo could face life in prison if convicted on all counts, according to the county prosecutor.
The chase began, according to authorities, at 11:15 p.m. on a Monday night after an unidentified female officer spotted a handgun in Mr. Griffins car. After an attempted traffic stop, Mr. Griffin fled.
During a roughly mile-long chase through the streets of Newark, Mr. Crespo shot repeatedly at Mr. Griffins vehicle, eventually killing Mr. Griffin and critically injuring the passenger, Andrew Dixon, 35.
Police have said that a handgun with hollow-point bullets was found inside the car; Mr. Dixon was charged with possession of an illegal gun.
The indictment comes as the Newark Police Department is working toward reform after a federal investigation uncovered a troubling pattern of unconstitutional practices, including improper searches and stops and excessive use of force. The department remains under a federal consent decree.
Nick Corasaniti is a New Jersey-based correspondent, covering the politics, policy, people, trains, beaches and eccentricities that give the Garden State its charm. A New Jersey native, he previously covered presidential campaigns for The Times. @NYTnickc • Facebook
A Newark police officer has been indicted nearly four months after he killed the driver of a fleeing vehicle during a wild chase caught on the cops body cam, the video of which shows the excited officer repeatedly jumping from his cruiser and firing shots at the car.
The grand jury indicted Jovanny Crespo, 26, on charges of aggravated manslaughter, aggravated assault, and two counts each of possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose and official misconduct in the Jan. 28 incident, according to the Essex County Prosecutors Office.
Crespo, of Newark, was taken into custody and was being held at the Essex County jail, the office said.
The indictment comes nearly three months after the prosecutor and Newark public safety director both said they had serious concerns about the officers conduct during the shooting and that he had been suspended without pay.
Body camera video of the incident, released Tuesday night, shows Crespo jumping out of his moving cruiser three times to fire at close range on the fleeing vehicle, ultimately killing Gregory C. Griffin, 46, of Newark.
Newark Officer Jovanny Crespo was indicted on charges including aggravated manslaughter for shooting two men, one fatally, Jan. 28, 2019. (Essex Co. Prosecutor)
Griffin fled a traffic stop after another officer allegedly spotted a handgun in his vehicle, according to police. Officer Hector Ortiz gave chase, with Crespo riding in the cruisers passenger seat, according to police records. The video shows Crespo jump out and shoot at the car before jumping back in and ordering Ortiz to go faster and cut Griffin off.
Relax! Relax bro! Ortiz says in the video. He repeats it as Crespo again bails out of the cruiser and fires at Griffins vehicle again, the video shows. I think I shot him! Crespo says as he gets back in the cruiser.
When the car finally came to a stop at 54 Irvine Turner Boulevard, police found that Griffin had been shot in the head and the passenger, Andrew Dixon, 35, was shot in the face, according to authorities and police records. Griffin, who had a history of drug offenses, died at University Hospital and Dixon, who was initially in critical condition, was charged with possessing the illegal handgun loaded with hollow-point bullets, police said.
The video shows Crespo repeatedly telling other officers that Dixon pointed a gun at him each time the vehicles stopped.
Alphonso Whitaker, Griffins father, said after learning about the indictment from a reporter Tuesday night that he was relieved to hear the news.
While shooting at a moving vehicle is not prohibited, the New Jersey Attorney Generals use-of-force guidelines discourage it because of the risk to bystanders and passengers. The guidelines say officers should only fire on moving vehicles if there are no other options and there is an imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm to the officer or another person.
James Stewart Jr., president of the Newark FOP, defended the indicted officer, saying gun arrests made by Crespo arrests are one of the reasons crime is down in Newark.”
The Newark FOP fully supports him, and his family, and we look forward to the next step in this process, which will be a courtroom, where a jury will hear the fully story of what occurred that night, not just a portion of the events,” Stewart said.
In February, after announcing the officers suspension, both Newark police and the prosecutors office refused to publicly name the officer or release police video of the incident in response to records requests, arguing that it shouldnt be released until the end of the grand jury process.
Rebecca Everett may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @rebeccajeverett. Find NJ.com on Facebook.