TRENTON — Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin and the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability today announced that a state grand jury has voted to file criminal charges against a Paterson police officer who allegedly shot a fleeing man in the back in June 2022, leaving the victim paralyzed.
The grand jury indicted Jerry Moravek, 40, of Paterson, New Jersey, on December 6, 2023 on charges of aggravated assault (2nd degree) and official misconduct (2nd degree). These charges and allegations are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in court.
“Police officers in New Jersey and around the country put their lives on the line every day and routinely exercise sound judgment, using force only when justified,” said Attorney General Platkin. “Deadly force against a fleeing suspect must be used only when absolutely necessary to stop an imminent danger. As alleged, the grand jury determined that the defendant’s decision to use deadly force against the victim running away from him in this incident was not justified.”
“In New Jersey, the use of deadly force by police officers should be an absolute last resort, applied when it is the only option to protect the officer or others from imminent danger. In this instance, the indictment alleges the victim was shot while running away and not posing an immediate threat to this officer or bystanders,” said Thomas Eicher, Executive Director of OPIA. “This unnecessary use of deadly force led to a permanent disability for the victim.”
According to statements made in court and public court filings, on June 11, 2022 at approximately 3:15 a.m., the defendant was on duty as a Paterson police officer when he engaged in a foot chase after the victim, while ordering the victim to drop a gun. It is alleged that the defendant never ordered the victim to stop running or to get on the ground, and he never warned the victim that he was going to use deadly force. As the victim continued running away, Moravek discharged his duty weapon on John Street in Paterson, hitting the victim in the back and rendering him unable to walk. Body-worn camera footage does not depict the victim possessing or brandishing any firearm or pointing a firearm at the defendant, other officers, or any member of the public. No gun was found in the victim’s possession or within his reach at the time he was shot. A discarded firearm was recovered around the corner from where the victim was shot, along the path that he had run. After he was shot, the victim told the defendant he was running because he was afraid and that he had no weapon.
The gunshot to the victim’s back left bullet fragments in his spine, leaving him unable to walk.
The Attorney General’s Guidelines on Use of Force, the Paterson Police Department Standard Operating Procedures, and state law enable police officers to only use deadly force against a suspect when immediately necessary to protect the officer or another person from imminent danger. Deadly force can only be used against a fleeing suspect in the rare situation when the suspect would pose an imminent danger to public safety if he were not immediately apprehended.
Second-degree charges carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000.
The case is being prosecuted by OPIA Assistant Attorney General Nicholas Kormann, the Director of Investigations of Fatal Police Encounters, under the supervision of OPIA Deputy Director Anthony Picione and Executive Director Eicher.
Defense attorney: Patrick Caserta, Esq.