UNION TOWNSHIP — The family of a Piscataway man who was shot and killed by an off-duty Newark police officer wants to make it illegal for off-duty cops to get drunk while they're carrying their weapons.

Michael Gaffney, 37, was killed before closing time Friday morning outside Paddy’s Place in this Union County township's downtown after he and the cop got into what authorities described as an altercation. Gaffney was unarmed.

Even though the cop was not on duty, the Union County Prosecutor’s Office is investigating the incident the way they would any case in which an officer uses lethal force. The officer has not been charged with a crime, and prosecutors have not publicly indicated whether they would present the case to a grand jury, which would decide whether to indict the officer on criminal charges.

Although officials have released very few details, the Newark police union president on the day of the incident declared that the officer “was justified in his actions” and that surveillance video capturing the incident would bear that out.

But friends and relatives of Gaffney — a construction worker and father of a 13-year-old girl who had recently moved in with his fiancée — say the officer instigated the confrontation with Gaffney and only pulled out his weapon because he was losing the fight.

“He was a hard working man for his family,” Gaffney’s mother, Judy Valdes, of Bayville, told New Jersey 101.5 on Tuesday. “They are portraying him to be this monster that he is not. I raised him to be the man he became and the father he was.”

Valdes was not at the bar but heard details from friends of Gaffney’s who were there that evening.

Paddy's Place in Union Center. (Google Maps)
Paddy's Place in Union Center. (Google Maps)

“They were arguing. The officer was aggressive with him. They made up and then he intimidated my son again. And then from there, I have no idea other than the fact that my son was shot very shortly after that.”

Valdes says her son and the officer knew each other and ran in the same circles, but they were not “good friends.”

Valdes was among nearly 1,200 people who had signed a Change.org petition Tuesday night urging the state’s Congressional delegation to enact a law that would prohibit off-duty officers from carrying their weapons when they intend to consume alcohol.

The state’s gun laws — which are enacted by state, not federal, lawmakers — do not prohibit gun carry-permit holders from taking their weapons into bars and restaurants, although local police departments and judges can deny a carry permit to someone who is an alcoholic.

“Alcohol and guns don't mix,” reads the petition calling for a “Gaffney’s Law.” “If you cannot drive under the influence, it only makes sense you shouldn't carry under the influence."

"Yes, they were both drinking, yes, a fight ensued, but never should an intoxicated officer with a gun solve drunken anger with his service weapon. Police officers are to protect and serve, not get served and shoot.”

“This was the love of my life taken away senselessly,” his girlfriend of 10 years, Johanna Aguilar, wrote on the petition. “I don't want anyone else to have to go through this.”

“We need justice for my father,” his daughter, Alexia, wrote.

Newark police officials have declined to say whether the officer has been suspended or reassigned while the investigation is pending. As in most cases involving an officer using lethal force, authorities did not name the cop. Newark Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose said Friday the officer had been on the force for 11 years.

Valdes says that “right now” she has “some confidence” in the investigation, but “I don’t have much faith in the system.”

“I’m praying justice will prevail and my son will not die in vain.”

Services for Gaffney will be 4 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at McCracken Funeral Home in Union Township. A funeral Mass will be 9:30 a.m. Thursday at Holy Spirit Church, also in Union Township. Gaffney also is survived by his stepfather Raymond Valdes, brother Frank Gaffney III and grandmother Edna Noble.

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