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 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.
The indictment comes three months after both the Essex County prosecutor and the Newark public safety director said they had serious concerns about the conduct of the officer, Jovanny Crespo, 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.
“I take no pleasure in making this announcement, but in this case, as in every case, we must go where the law, the facts and the evidence take us,” Stephens says.
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.
N.J. officer charged with manslaughter in shooting death of fleeing motorist
Since 2005, 36 non-federal law enforcement officers have been convicted of a crime resulting from an on-duty shooting (16 by guilty plea, 20 by jury trial and none convicted by a bench trial), according to Philip M. Stinson, an associate professor of criminal justice at Bowling Green State University who tracks police shootings. About 900 to 1,000 people are fatally shot by police officers in the United States every year, Mr. Stinson said, citing a database created by the Washington Post.
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.
It is the states position that this officers conduct that night was criminal, said Theodore Stephens, the acting Essex County Prosecutor, during a news conference announcing the indictment on Tuesday night. He showed a reckless disregard for human life by shooting into a moving vehicle, a vehicle which had heavily tinted windows.
The indictment comes from an investigation into the deadly shooting of 45-year-old Gregory Griffin on Jan. 28. Officials say that a Newark police officer stopped Griffin and his passenger 35-year-old Andrew Dixon during a traffic stop. But the men fled the scene. The officer apparently reported that she spotted a handgun in Griffin’s vehicle.
Video: Wild video shows Newark cop fire at vehicle, killing driver
Mr. Crespo was charged on Tuesday with six counts, including aggravated manslaughter, and could face life in prison if convicted on all counts, according to the county prosecutor.
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.
The pursuit 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.
The chase was captured on Mr. Crespos body camera, which the prosecutors office released to the public on Tuesday night. In the first altercation with Mr. Griffins car, Mr. Crespo exits his police car and sprints around to the drivers side to try to intercept Mr. Griffin, and then fires three rounds as the car pulls away.
“He showed a reckless disregard for human life for shooting into a moving vehicle – a vehicle which had heavily tinted windows,” says Stephens.
After a 60-second chase, Mr. Crespos car catches Mr. Griffin at an intersection. Mr. Crespo immediately jumps out of the car and fires three more rounds as Mr. Griffin speeds off again.
I think I shot him, Mr. Crespo tells his fellow officer. I seen the gun, he pointed the gun at me. Bro, he pointed the gun right at me.
A mile from where the chase first began, Mr. Griffins car came to a stop. Mr. Crespo ran toward the vehicle as the passenger-side door cracked open. He fired two more shots and opened the door, pulling Mr. Dixon from the vehicle and yelling get out of the car and dont reach for nothing. Mr. Griffin can be seen slumped in the drivers seat. He died the following day.
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.
Acting Essex County Prosecutor Theodore Stevens said an officer who stopped Griffins car late Jan. 28 radioed that the vehicle was speeding away and that she had seen a gun inside it. Crespo joined the pursuit and opened fire at three locations, he said.
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In addition to aggravated manslaughter and aggravated assault, Crespo was charged with two counts of possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose and two counts of official misconduct. If hes convicted, he could face life in prison, Stevens said.
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.
A passenger, Andrew Dixon, 35, was gravely injured and remains “not in good shape” almost four months later, Stevens said.
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.
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