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TRENTON – A state grand jury has voted not to file any criminal charges at the conclusion of its deliberations regarding the death of James Manzo, 27, of Asbury Park, N.J., who was fatally shot by Officer James R. Crawford of the Asbury Park Police Department on July 23, 2019. As required by statute, all fatal police encounters must be presented to a grand jury. According to available evidence, including video from body worn cameras and the statement of a civilian witness, Mr. Manzo attempted to stab an officer with a pair of scissors.
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 of this officer-involved shooting included interviews of witnesses, collection of forensic evidence, review of body worn camera footage, and autopsy results from the medical examiner. After hearing testimony and evidence from the investigation, the grand jury concluded its deliberations yesterday, Sept. 27, and voted “no bill,” meaning a majority of grand jurors found that the actions of the officer who shot Mr. Manzo were justified and no charges should be filed against him.
According to the investigation, the shooting occurred at approximately 10:19 p.m. at the residence where Mr. Manzo lived at 305 7th Avenue. Members of the Asbury Park Police Department responded to the location on a report that Mr. Manzo was behaving erratically and had made statements of intent to commit violence against another person. Upon arrival, Asbury Park officers entered the building and attempted to talk to Mr. Manzo. After numerous unsuccessful attempts to obtain information from Mr. Manzo, an officer attempted to enter Mr. Manzo’s room. Mr. Manzo immediately attempted to stab the officer with a pair of scissors. During the encounter, Officer Crawford, who observed Mr. Manzo attempting to stab the other officer, fired at Mr. Manzo, fatally wounding him. First aid was rendered by officers as well as emergency medical personnel, and Mr. Manzo was transported to Jersey Shore University Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 10:52 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.
After considering the facts, evidence, and testimony from the OPIA investigation, the state grand jury found the actions of the officer were justified. 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.
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: 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 found at this link: www.nj.gov/oag/independent-prosecutor/