Under the Attorney General’s Directive on Police-Use-of-Force Investigations, the incident was investigated by the Attorney General’s Shooting Response Team, made up of investigators from the Division of Criminal Justice and the New Jersey State Police Major Crime Unit. As a result of the investigation, Director Elie Honig of the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice determined that presentation of the police-involved shooting to a grand jury was not required under the Directive, because the undisputed facts showed that the use of force was justified under the law. The investigation included witness interviews, forensic analysis of the crime scenes, and other evidence.
Testimony and evidence from the Shooting Response Team’s investigation was presented to a state grand jury for consideration of charges against the alleged carjacker. As a result, the state grand jury returned a 14-count indictment charging Terry Saunders, 27, of Newark, with the following crimes:
The series of events began at approximately 5:18 a.m. on Sept. 30, 2014, when Saunders allegedly drove a stolen car onto the lot of Alamo Rent A Car on U.S. 1 & 9 in Newark. An unarmed guard, believing he was an employee, allowed Saunders to drive to the rear of the facility, where he allegedly stole a Chevrolet Tahoe. Saunders allegedly pulled the SUV up to the front exit and honked his horn, but the guard, who had become suspicious, approached the vehicle. At that point, Saunders allegedly rammed the gate at the exit. Saunders then allegedly put the vehicle in reverse and crashed into two cars behind him. Another guard, who was armed and had seen the collisions, ran in front of the SUV, yelling for Saunders to stop. Saunders allegedly drove directly toward the armed guard, who fired his .40-caliber handgun once, striking Saunders in the shoulder. Saunders then allegedly crashed the SUV into the exit gate again, disabling the vehicle. Saunders allegedly fled on foot. The armed guard chased Saunders and struggled with him in an attempt to take him into custody, but Saunders allegedly escaped.
Following the failed robbery attempt at Alamo, an alert was broadcast to police with a description of Saunders, who was described as “armed.” In fact, there is no evidence that Saunders was armed at the time. Shortly afterward, a state trooper who was on patrol in Newark saw Saunders and noted that he fit the description in the bulletin. Saunders allegedly was engaged in a carjacking involving a Monte Carlo that had stopped at a traffic light on Frelinghuysen Avenue. Saunders allegedly opened the passenger door and told the driver to get in the back seat. Fearing Saunders was armed, the driver complied.
The trooper, who allegedly saw Saunders get into passenger side of the car and push the driver toward the back seat, parked his unmarked Jeep behind and perpendicular to the Monte Carlo. The trooper exited his vehicle, stealthily approached the driver’s door of the Monte Carlo, and opened the door to kneel on the driver’s seat facing Saunders. The trooper allegedly wrestled with Saunders to keep him from getting into the driver’s seat. The trooper drew his service weapon and repeatedly told Saunders to show his hands. Saunders allegedly struggled and ultimately put the car in reverse, accelerating backward. The state trooper, who could not maintain his balance and feared he would be tossed from the vehicle, fired three or four rounds from his 9mm handgun at Saunders, none of which appear to have hit him. As the car reversed, the trooper was ejected from the open driver’s side and was struck by the driver’s door. He was dragged several feet until the car crashed into the unmarked police car. The trooper landed on the road with his head inches from both a rear wheel of the Monte Carlo and a front wheel of the Jeep. The car pulled forward several feet, at which point the trooper – fearing the car would reverse over him and seeking to stop the carjacking and kidnapping – fired seven or eight more rounds from his service weapon. One of the rounds struck Saunders in the back.
The trooper fired a total of 11 rounds during the incident. The trooper suffered multiple broken bones and needed numerous staples and stitches to close various wounds. Saunders allegedly fled in the car, with the man he carjacked still in the back seat. After driving about 10 minutes, he allegedly got out of the car and fled on foot. The carjacking victim was unharmed. Later that night, Saunders was admitted to Harlem Hospital Center in New York City for treatment of his gunshot wounds. While still at the hospital, he was identified in connection with the alleged crimes in New Jersey and charged. After his release from the hospital, he was held at the Manhattan Criminal Detention Complex until his extradition to New Jersey. He remains in the Essex County Jail with bail set at $750,000.
Deputy Attorney General Vincent J. Militello presented the case to the state grand jury for the Attorney General’s Shooting Response Team. The indictment is merely an accusation and the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty. The indictment was handed up to Superior Court Judge Mary C. Jacobson in Mercer County, who assigned the case to Essex County, where Saunders will be ordered to appear for arraignment at a later date.
The first-degree charges carry a sentence of 10 to 20 years in state prison and a fine of up to $200,000. Second-degree charges carry a sentence of five to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $150,000. The charges of carjacking, attempted robbery, aggravated assault and kidnapping carry a mandatory term of parole ineligibility equal to 85 percent of the sentence imposed. Third-degree charges carry a sentence of three to five years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000, while fourth-degree charges carry a sentence of up to 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine.
With respect to the police-involved shooting, after analyzing all of the facts and circumstances of this incident, it was concluded by Director Honig that the trooper used an acceptable level of force under the Attorney General’s Use-of-Force Policy in firing his 9mm service handgun at Saunders. An officer may use deadly force in New Jersey when the officer reasonably believes it is immediately necessary to protect the officer or another person from imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm. An officer also may use deadly force in appropriate circumstances to make an arrest for the crimes of kidnapping and robbery. All portions of the Attorney General’s Directive on Police-Use-of-Force Investigations which were in effect during the course of the investigation were complied with.