No charges for 4 NJ cops in fatal shooting of stolen SUV’s driver
The four officers involved in a fatal shooting of a man who stole an SUV last year won't be indicted, the state Attorney General has announced.
Two Lyndhurst officers, a Rutherford officer local officers and a state trooper had fired on driver Kashad Ashford, 23, of Newark —with fire from two of those officers fatally wounding him. Their pursuit of the SUV ended when the vehicle crashed, according to the AG's office. A passenger, Jemmaine T. Bynes, 31, of East Orange, wasn't hit or injured. The suspects had a loaded gun at the time, the AG's office said.
A grand jury — after hearing testimony and seeing evidence, including ballistics evidence and autopsy results — voted "no true bill," meaning it opened not to indict the officers involved.
None of the officers' names have been disclosed by the AG's office, as they have not been charged.
According to the AG's office, the shooting occurred just over a year ago, at 2:30 a.m. on Sept. 16, 2014 on the Ridge Road overpass over Route 3 in Rutherford. But the circumstances leading to it began about 20 minutes earlier, when a resident of North Arlington heard someone attempting to break into a car in her driveway, the AG's office said.
She shouted from her window and saw an individual flee to an SUV in the street, it said. The woman called 911, and alert issued for police for a black SUV occupied by someone wearing a black hoodie.
A Lyndhurst officer first spotted a vehicle matching the description stopped on a street near Ridge Road and drove closer in his marked vehicle to obtain more information, the AG's office said. The SUV – a stolen black Nissan Armada – then ran a red light, turned left on Ridge Road and headed north at high speed, it said. The officer activated his lights and siren and pursued the SUV, but lost sight of it.
Meanwhile, another Lyndhurst officer in a marked vehicle spotted the SUV traveling at a high rate of speed and became the lead pursuer, according to the AG's office. The officer who initially pursued the suspect SUV caught up with the pursuit and was a witness at the scene of the shooting, but he was not one of the four officers who fired upon Ashford.
The second Lyndhurst officer who joined the pursuit and became the lead pursuer.
Officers describe a life-or-death encounter
A description of the events by the AG's office only identifies the officers by numbers, omitting their names. Two officers — Officers 1 and 2 in the description, both from Lyndhurst — struck Ashford with their bullets. Officer 3 of Rutherford fired a single shot from a handgun that didn't hit Ashford, and Officer 4 (the state trooper) fired multiple shotgun rounds but didn't strike him, the AG's office said.
The AG's office said Officer 1 activated his lights and siren and pursued the SUV as it traveled on Ridge Road at a high rate of speed through residential and commercial areas, "recklessly running many red lights and stop signs and going airborne over some hills." At the end of the pursuit, the headlights and rear lamps of the SUV were turned off, it said.
Multiple officers reported that just prior to the crash, the driver of the SUV drove directly into the lane of an oncoming Lyndhurst police vehicle, which was responding to the pursuit, in an apparent attempt to strike the police vehicle head-on, the AG's office said. The Lyndhurst officer driving that vehicle, Officer 2, had to swerve to avoid a collision, it said.
The driver of the SUV lost control, crashing into a concrete barrier and yellow DOT sand barrels on the northbound side of Ridge Road on the Route 3 overpass, according to the AG's office. A Rutherford police officer who also was nearly struck by the SUV, Officer 3, parked his marked police vehicle behind the SUV to block it in, the AG's office said. Additional police vehicles arrived and parked around the SUV.
According to the accounts by the officers, as police approached with weapons drawn, Ashford had the SUV "bucking back and forth like it was trying to push that patrol car out of the way." Officer 2 described seeing Ashford crouching down, "like he was trying to grab something."
The first Lyndhurst officer fired three shots "and saw the driver go lifeless," according to the account in the AG's office's description. The second Lyndhurst officer, who thought Ashford was going for a weapon, fired six shots, the statement said.
The medical examiner report found Ashford was struck by seven gunshots in all. a single shot from the Rutherford officer didn't connect. The state trooper arrived about 40 seconds after the gunfire started and got off four rounds, but they didn't hit anyone, the AG's office said.
The autopsy report indicated that Ashford had marijuana and a designer drug commonly referred to as “bath salts” in his system.
The passenger, Bynes, was lying back in the SUV as police tried to enter the vehicle, the AG's office said. Officers' vision was obscured by smoke from the spinning tires. One of the Lyndhurst officers broke one of the SUV's windows with a Baton and removed the passenger, the AG's office said.
Bynes did not resist arrest, it said.
Police next removed Ashford, and attempted CPR — as did arriving EMTs afterward. But he was pronounced dead at Hackensack Medical Center later that morning.
Bynes, was charged at the time of the shooting with unlawful possession of a handgun, possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, possession of a firearm as a convicted felon, and receiving stolen property. It is alleged that Bynes and Ashford were riding together in the stolen SUV seeking to break into or steal other vehicles, the AG's office said.
A ski mask and handgun were both recovered from the SUV.
Bynes was shot and killed in another incident on March 11, 2015 in Newark.
Members of Ashford's family told NJ.com they want a federal investigation of the shooting.
"What else can we expect? We're just offended that the whole system has failed this family," Cecille Hepburn, Ashford's grandmother, told the site Wednesday. "The system is as the system is. The police can't police the police."
They also said they want the names of the officers released.
Louis C. Hochman is digital managing editor for NJ1015.com. Reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @LouisCHochman.