TRENTON – A state grand jury has voted not to file any criminal charges at the conclusion of its deliberations regarding the death of Ms. Sook Lee, 65, of Clifton, N.J., who died on October 22, 2020, after being fatally struck by a marked Clifton Police Department vehicle driven by Officer Garrell Middleton.
The fatal police encounter was investigated by the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA) and presented to New Jersey residents called to serve on the grand jury in accordance with Directive 2019-4, the “Independent Prosecutor Directive” issued in 2019. In July 2021, OPIA issued standard operating procedures (“SOPs”) to ensure that these grand jury presentations are conducted in a neutral, objective manner, and with appropriate transparency regarding the process, consistent with the Independent Prosecutor Directive.
The investigation of this officer-involved fatality included interviews of witnesses, collection of “Black Box” data, review of security camera footage near the scene, and autopsy results from the medical examiner. After hearing testimony and evidence from the investigation, the grand jury completed its deliberations yesterday June 6, and voted “no bill,” meaning the grand jury concluded that no criminal charges should be filed against the officer involved in the fatal encounter.
According to the investigation, on October 22, 2020, at approximately 6:45 p.m., the Wayne Police Department notified neighboring municipalities of an attempted carjacking, during which two actors appeared to have brandished a handgun and a shotgun. The actors fled the area in a vehicle. At approximately 6:57 p.m., a citizen at the Clifton Commons shopping center in Clifton, New Jersey, called 911 and reported that he had stopped individuals in the act of attempting to steal his car. The Clifton Police Department concluded that the description of the actors and the vehicle matched that of the earlier reported attempted armed carjacking. Multiple Clifton Police Department units were dispatched to the Clifton Commons location and surrounding area in order to locate the suspects. At approximately 7:07 p.m., Officer Garrell Middleton left the Clifton Police Department Headquarters in a marked police vehicle to assist. His vehicle was en route, in the intersection of Allwood Road and Brookwood Road, with the vehicle’s emergency lights on, when he was involved in an accident. In an effort to avoid colliding with a civilian vehicle about to make a left turn, Officer Middleton applied his brakes and engaged in an evasive hard left turn. In the process, he struck Ms. Sook Lee, who was on the sidewalk. Officer Middleton rendered medical aid to Ms. Lee and emergency medical personnel transported her to St. Joseph’s University Medical Center in Paterson, where she was pronounced deceased at 7:42 p.m.
A 2019 law, P.L. 2019, c. 1, requires the Attorney General’s Office to conduct investigations of a person’s death that occurs during an encounter with a law enforcement officer acting in the officer’s official capacity or while the decedent is in custody. It requires that all such investigations be presented to a grand jury to determine if the evidence supports the return of an indictment against the officer or officers involved.
A conflicts check was conducted pursuant to the Independent Prosecutor Directive and no actual or potential conflict of interest was found involving any individual assigned to the investigation. Prior to presentation to the grand jury, the investigation was reviewed by OPIA Executive Director Thomas Eicher in accordance with the policies and procedures established for these presentations in the SOPs.
At the conclusion of these investigations, pursuant to the Independent Prosecutor Directive and SOPs, OPIA determines whether any principal should be referred to the appropriate law enforcement agency for administrative review in accordance with the AG’s Internal Affairs Policy & Procedures. OPIA monitors any resulting review and takes such actions as are necessary to ensure that the review is completed in a timely fashion, and that appropriate actions are taken based on the results of the review.
The Independent Prosecutor Directive is posted on the Attorney General’s website at this link: https://www.nj.gov/oag/dcj/agguide/directives/ag-Directive-2019-4.pdf.
Further information about how fatal police encounters are investigated in New Jersey under the directive is available at this link: https://www.njoag.gov/independent-prosecutor/