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.
Inside the car, prosecutors say both men were shot in the head. Griffin died the next day. The passenger survived, CBS2’s Alice Gainer reported. Crespo can be heard telling other officers what happened: “Yo, I shot both of them… He pointed his gun at me… He started pointing the gun at me.”
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Video: Wild video shows Newark cop fire at vehicle, killing driver
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.
Griffin, , who had a history of drug offenses, 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.
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.
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.
Police officer indicted after wild chase leaves 1 dead
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.
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.
Newark cop charged with aggravated manslaughter in fatal traffic stop shooting: officials
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.
Newark police officer who fatally shot fleeing driver indicted by grand jury
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.
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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 New Jersey police officer could spend the rest of his life behind bars after being charged with shooting and killing a driver and wounding a passenger during a wild chase that was all caught on video.
Jovanny Crespo of the Newark Police Department was indicted by a grand jury Tuesday on six counts related to the late January death of Gregory Griffin, the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office said. The announcement coincided with the release of a dramatic bodycam video of the fatal police pursuit, showing the 26-year-old officer firing off numerous rounds into the car Griffin was driving.
“It is the state’s position that this officer’s conduct that night was criminal,” acting Essex County Prosecutor Theodore Stephens said. “He showed a reckless disregard for human life by shooting into a moving vehicle, a vehicle which had heavily tinted windows. This is the first fatal police-involved shooting to result in an indictment in Essex County in recent memory."
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Investigators say the Jan. 28 incident began after a female Newark police officer pulled over Griffin’s car in a traffic stop. They say he sped off and the officer “radioed… that she saw a gun,” which “led to a pursuit involving a number of police cars.”
Crespo’s bodycam footage starts with him riding in the passenger seat of a police cruiser, repeatedly demanding the driver to “cut in front” of Griffin’s black car.
Crespo then hops out as Griffin pulls into an intersection, firing off several rounds at the vehicle while saying “get out of the car”. But Griffin takes off again and Crespo re-enters the police cruiser, and is heard breathing heavily as his driver revs the engine in pursuit.
“I shot at him, bro,” Crespo says to the driver. He then resumes giving instructions to the driver, who tells him to “relax”. At one point, the now-agitated driver yells at Crespo to stay inside the car as he tries to open his passenger door and engage Griffin a second time.
Newark Police Officer Jovanny Crespo could be sentenced to life in prison for his alleged role in a police-involved shooting in January, prosecutors say. (Essex County Prosecutors Office)
Yet at another intersection, Crespo appears to ignore the driver’s command. The footage shows him jumping out of the car and firing off more rounds at Griffin’s vehicle, which once again speeds off.
“Bro, he pointed the gun right at me,” Crespo tells the driver after getting back inside his police car.
The chase ends with Crespo leaving his police cruiser a third time to approach Griffin, now stopped in the middle of a street.
“Stop the car!” Crespo is heard saying as Griffin’s vehicle – with its passenger door slightly open – begins moving again. Crespo fires off multiple rounds at the car and other officers swarm it, pulling out 35-year-old passenger Andrew Dixon, who sustained serious injuries. Griffin, behind the wheel, remained motionless.
The Essex County Prosecutor’s Office says both men were shot in the head during the pursuit and Griffin, 46, died at a hospital the following day. No officers were injured during the incident and Crespo was the only one to discharge his weapon, they added.
In the bodycam footage, Crespo is heard telling his colleagues “I shot him in the head” and “I shot both of them.”
The New Jersey Attorney General’s use of force policy states that officers are only allowed to use deadly force to prevent the escape of a fleeing suspect if it is determined that the suspect “will pose an imminent danger of death of serious bodily harm should the escape succeed.” The policy also says officers can only use deadly force in those conditions if it “presents no substantial risk of injury to innocent persons.”
Crespo was taken into custody Tuesday being charged with aggravated manslaughter, aggravated assault, two counts of Possession of Weapon for an Unlawful Purpose and two counts of Official Misconduct – and faces life in prison if convicted on all counts. He has been suspended without pay and is expected to make his first court appearance Wednesday or Thursday.