Terry Saunders, 28, aka Tarik Smith, of Newark, N.J., was sentenced today to 10 years in state prison, including 8 ½ years of parole ineligibility, by Superior Court Judge Michael L. Ravin in Essex County. Saunders pleaded guilty on Nov. 14 to first-degree carjacking, first-degree robbery, and second-degree aggravated assault. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison on each of the first-degree charges, and five years on the second-degree charge, with the sentences to run concurrently. All of the charges fall under the No Early Release Act, so he must serve 85 percent of the sentences without possibility of parole.
Deputy Attorney General Annmarie Taggart, deputy chief of the Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau, handled the sentencing for the Division of Criminal Justice.
“Once behind the wheel of a stolen car, Saunders wielded that car like a weapon, with zero regard for the life of anyone who got in his way,” said Attorney General Porrino. “The State Police detective in this case is a true hero who risked his life to take this violent criminal off the street.”
“This sentence ensures that Saunders will serve a lengthy term behind bars, where he can’t commit robberies or threaten the lives of civilians and police officers,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “We have removed this menace from our communities.”
“Terry Saunders’ crime spree of stealing cars turned into mayhem as a result of his violent attempts to elude authorities, which ended-up seriously injuring a trooper,” said Colonel Rick Fuentes, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “Our first priority is to preserve life and protect the community, and I commend this State Police detective who placed himself in peril in order to do just that.”
Saunder’s crime spree began at about 5:18 a.m. on Sept. 30, 2014, when he 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 stole a Chevrolet Tahoe. Saunders 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 rammed the gate. He then put the vehicle into 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 drove directly toward the armed guard, who fired his .40-caliber handgun once, striking Saunders in the shoulder. Saunders then crashed the SUV into the exit gate again, disabling the vehicle. Saunders fled on foot. The armed guard chased Saunders and struggled with him in an attempt to take him into custody, but Saunders 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 New Jersey State Police detective who was on patrol in Newark saw Saunders and noted that he fit the description in the bulletin. Saunders was engaged in a carjacking involving a Monte Carlo that had stopped at a traffic light on Frelinghuysen Avenue. Saunders opened the passenger door and told the driver to get in the back seat. Fearing Saunders was armed, the driver complied.
The detective, who saw Saunders get into the 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 detective 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 detective wrestled with Saunders to keep him from getting into the driver’s seat. The detective drew his weapon and repeatedly told Saunders to show his hands. Saunders, however, continued to struggle and ultimately put the car in reverse, accelerating backward.
The detective, 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 detective 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 detective 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 detective – fearing the car would reverse over him and seeking to stop the carjacking and kidnapping – fired seven or eight more rounds from his weapon. One of the rounds struck Saunders in the back.
Saunders fled in the car, with the man he carjacked still in the back seat. After driving about 10 minutes, he 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 at the hospital, he was identified and arrested in connection with the crimes in New Jersey. He was extradited to New Jersey, where he has been held in the Essex County Jail with bail set at $750,000.
Among other injuries, the detective suffered broken bones in his spine, a broken shoulder and broken ribs, as well as wounds to his head and other areas that required numerous staples and sutures to close.
Deputy Attorney General Vincent J. Militello presented the case to the state grand jury for the Attorney General’s Shooting Response Team and took the guilty plea. With respect to the police-involved shooting, after analyzing all of the facts and circumstances of this incident, it was concluded by Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice that the detective used an acceptable level of force under the Attorney General’s Use-of-Force Policy in firing his 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.
Andrea J. Barrow, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, Essex County
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