NJ cops won’t be charged: Shot men in fireworks battle
JERSEY CITY — Police officers patrolling a residential complex didn't know that what the men on the street were firing were nothing but Roman candle fireworks.
And the men on the street didn't know — until they were shot in the legs and buttocks — that police were returning fire with real ammunition.
A investigation into a July 1 police shooting ended this month when a Hudson County grand jury declined to press any criminal charges against the three officers who fired a combined 21 bullets at two men, who survived.
The two who fired the fireworks also were not charged with any indictable crime but they did suffer some painful injuries.
The shooting was investigated by the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office as required by state law.
Prosecutors this week released a summary of the investigation, which involved the testimony of the three officers, footage from four surveillance cameras covering five angles, testing ballistics and canvassing the scene for witnesses.
Prosecutors said the officers, part of the department's housing unit, arrived for duty at 10:14 p.m at the Arlington Gardens Apartment Complex.
While the uniformed officers were getting out of their vehicles, a car carrying fuor people stopped on Randolph Avenue, letting out Davonte Moore, 21. The car then drove a short distance up the street and let out Shyquan Rush, 19, and another passenger. Prosecutors said the men had planned to ambush a group of friends who were hanging out on the street by firing Roman candles at them. Moore would come from one direction while Rush and the other friend would attack from the other, investigators said.
As the Roman candle blasts went off, police said that they could not tell whether they were hearing fireworks or gunfire and decided to investigate. Prosecutors said that the officers in the parking lot were unable to see what was happening around the corners.
The officers then saw a group of men running past them in fear, officials said.
Officers said they also saw a man, who turned out to be Moore, ducking behind a car while holding what turned out to be a Roman candle in his outstretched hand. The tubelike firework was banging out fiery sparks.
Police said Moore was firing the candle at his friends and the police officers.
That's when police opened fire. Video shows Moore going down after being shot but he then gets back up and is shot again, prosecutors said.
Meanwhile, as his friend is getting shot, Rush comes into view of officers while firing his Roman candle. He also is shot, goes down and then runs toward the waiting car, officials said. Prosecutors said Rush went to the hospital after realizing he was shot in the calf.
Police called an ambulance for Moore, who was shot three times in the right thigh, once in a lower right buttock and a graze wound across the left thigh.
“The credible evidence established that when the officers fired, they fired at targets that they perceived to have created an imminent threat of death to the fleeing men, themselves, and their fellow officers," prosecutors said in a summary of the case. "Ballistics tests were unable to conclusively establish which officers’ discharges resulted in the injuries to Mr. Rush and Mr. Moore.”
Prosecutors said Lt. Crisant Bereguette fired 14 shots, Officer Raymond Vazquez fired five shots and Officer Michael Jacobo fired two shots.
The grand jury, which was presented with evidence over the course of three days in November and this month, returned a no-bill decision on the case on Dec. 5, meaning that the officers will not be prosecuted.
An attorney for the two injured men said earlier this year that his clients intended to sue the city but could not be reached for comment on Thursday.
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.