State Grand Jury Declines to Criminally Charge Officer Involved in Fatal Police-Involved Shooting in Laurence Harbor

For Immediate Release: April 12, 2024

Office of the Attorney General
– Matthew J. Platkin, Attorney General
Office of Public Integrity and Accountability
– Thomas J. Eicher, Executive Director

For Further Information:

Media Inquiries-
Dan Prochilo

TRENTON — A state grand jury has voted not to file any criminal charges at the conclusion of its deliberations regarding the death of Luke Mendez, 26, of Laurence Harbor, New Jersey, who was fatally shot by an officer from the Old Bridge Police Department on April 24, 2023.

Mr. Mendez’s death was investigated by the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA) and presented to New Jersey residents serving on the grand jury in accordance with the Independent Prosecutor Directive of 2019. In July 2021, OPIA issued standard operating procedures (SOPs) to ensure these grand jury presentations are conducted in a neutral, objective manner, with appropriate transparency regarding the process, consistent with the directive.

The investigation included witness interviews, photographs, review of video and audio recordings, and autopsy results from the medical examiner. This evidence, including video of the incident, was presented to a state grand jury. After hearing the testimony and evidence, the grand jury concluded its deliberations on April 8, 2024, and voted “no bill,” meaning jurors concluded no criminal charges should be filed against Officer Christopher Hammel of the Old Bridge Police Department.

According to the investigation, on April 24, 2023, at approximately 3:09 p.m., Officer Hammel responded to a 911 call regarding a dispute at a residence on Woodland Avenue in the Laurence Harbor section of Old Bridge. While there, Officer Hammel encountered Mr. Mendez, who appeared at the top of an interior staircase holding a knife. Officer Hammel instructed Mendez to put the knife down. When Mr. Mendez refused to drop it, Officer Hammel drew his service weapon. A short time later, Mr. Mendez rapidly descended the staircase, while still holding the knife, and Officer Hammel fired his service weapon, striking Mendez. He was transported to Old Bridge Medical Center and was later pronounced deceased at 4:47 p.m.

Footage from a police body-worn camera and audio from a 911 call related to the shooting were previously released. Those recordings are posted online. Click here to review the recordings.

A 2019 law, N.J.S.A. 52:17B-107(a)(2), 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. The grand jury is instructed on the elements of the potential criminal offenses, including criminal homicide offenses, that could be brought and, as required by statutes, the grand jury is instructed on self-defense and other forms of legal justification.

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 and is available here: Independent Prosecutor Directive

OPIA’s standard operating procedures for grand jury presentations of investigations involving fatal police encounters are also posted on the Attorney General’s website, and are available here: OPIA Grand Jury SOPs


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