NEWARK — Body cam video of a fatal police pursuit that looks like a scene from an action movie could land a police officer behind bars for life.

An Essex County grand jury has handed up an indictment on manslaughter, assault and weapons charges against Officer Jovanny Crespo, 26, who shot two suspects in the head during a wild car chase, killing one of them.

Acting Essex County Prosecutor Stephens told NBC New York that Crespo's action showed a "reckless disregard for human life" that went against his police training.

Newark Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose said Crespo's action during the Jan. 28 incident "raised concerns" almost immediately. He noted that a dozen other officers involved with the case acted professionally.

"I think that is evidence that most of our officers understand the correct procedures, even in a high-adrenaline situation like this case, involving a car chase where police know a weapon is present," Ambrose said.

Outside a Newark police awards lunch on Wednesday, James Stewart Jr., the president of the Newark Fraternal Order of Police, told PIX 11 that Crespo acted properly because his life was in danger and that he did a "great job.”

During a police stop about 11:15 p.m. Jan. 28 at Thomas Street and Pennsylvania Avenue in the South Broad Street section of Newark, Crespo said he saw a firearm inside a four-door black Chrysler 300.

The driver, Greg C. Griffin, 46, and passenger Andrew Dixon, 34, pulled away before backup arrived and Crespo followed, the Essex County Prosecutor's Office said.

Crespo told investigators that he opened fire three times before the car stopped.

Griffin and Dixon were shot in the head during the pursuit; Griffin later died from his injuries. Dixon was charged with illegal possession of a weapon after police found a handgun in their vehicle.

Crespo was suspended from the force during an investigation into the incident.

An Essex County grand jury this week indicted Crespo and prosecutors released copies of dashcam and bodycam video of the chase and shooting.

 

With sirens blaring, lights flashing and engine racing, the video shows Crespo's vehicle following the Charger at high speed.

At one point, Crespo gets out of the police car and shoots at the Charger, which doesn't stop.

Crespo then gets into the passenger seat of another police car and continues the chase.

When the police car gets in front of the Charger, Crespo opens the door and fires at it as the Charger speeds past.

"Relax," the driving cop tells Crespo.

Crespo tries to get out of the moving car again, but the driver tells him to "get in."

"Let me go, let me go!" Crespo says.

Crespo gets out again and shoots the vehicle, which does not stop.

He gets back in the car and tells the other cop that "I think I shot him" and "he pointed the gun at me."

Crespo tells the officer behind the wheel to get in front of the Charger and that "you can use the car."

When the Charger stops, Crespo gets out and fires two more times. The Charger's passenger door opens and Crespo orders the passenger to get out of the car.

"Put the guns down," Crespo said as police and the two men in the car tussle and are ordered to get on the sidewalk.

The passenger appears to be attempting to escape on foot before two other officers move in holding their weapons.

The state Attorney General’s New Jersey Police Vehicular Pursuit Policy says chases are supposed to be limited when they involve suspects wanted for the most serious crimes.

“Deciding whether to pursue a motor vehicle is among the most critical decisions made by law enforcement officers. It is a decision which must be made quickly and under difficult, often unpredictable circumstances,” the policy says.

The policy states: "Officers involved in a pursuit shall not fire any weapon from or at a moving vehicle nor engage in any vehicle contact action except as a last resort to prevent imminent death or serious injury to the officer or another person where deadly force would otherwise be justified."

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ

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