TRENTON – A state grand jury has voted not to file any criminal charges at the conclusion of its deliberations regarding the death of a boy, age 12, who was struck and killed by a police vehicle driven by Officer Michael Sansevere of the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office on Route 208 in Fair Lawn on April 14, 2019.
The fatal police encounter was investigated by the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA) and presented to 16 to 23 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 included interviews of witnesses; review of footage from the mobile video recorder in the police vehicle; and autopsy results from the medical examiner. After hearing testimony and evidence from the investigation, the grand jury concluded its deliberations yesterday, Nov. 9, and voted “no bill,” meaning a majority of grand jurors concluded that no charges should be filed against Officer Sansevere.
Shortly after 9:00 p.m. on April 14, 2019, four juveniles were attempting to cross Route 208 from east to west, just north of Fair Lawn Avenue. Route 208 is a multi-lane divided highway. Three of the juveniles crossed the northbound lanes, jumped over the center divider, and ran across the southbound lanes. The decedent, who was behind the other three juveniles, crossed the northbound lanes, climbed over the center divider, and was struck in the center of the left southbound lane by a marked Bergen County Sheriff’s Office SUV driven by Officer Sansevere. The officer was on duty, but was not responding to a call for service at the time. After the impact, Officer Sansevere brought his vehicle to an immediate stop, activated his emergency lights, notified dispatch of the collision, exited his vehicle, and assessed the child’s condition. Emergency medical personnel responded, and the child was pronounced deceased at the scene.
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:
Further information about how fatal police encounters are investigated in New Jersey under the directive is found at this link: http://www.nj.gov/oag/independent-prosecutor/