TRENTON – A state grand jury has voted not to file any criminal charges at the conclusion of its deliberations regarding the death of Roy K. Jackel, Jr., 42, who died when an officer fired his service weapon at Mr. Jackel on April 5, 2021 in Buena Vista Township, N.J. The Attorney General’s Office previously released the identity of the police officer who fired at Mr. Jackel. The officer was identified as Sgt. David Jernegan of the Franklin Township Police Department.
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 fatal police encounter included interviews of witnesses, collection of forensic evidence, review of video footage, and autopsy results from the medical examiner. After hearing testimony and evidence from the investigation, the grand jury concluded its deliberations on Monday, September 26, 2022, and voted “no bill” meaning the Grand Jury determined that the actions of the officer who shot Mr. Jackel should not result in charges against the officer.
According to the investigation, uniformed officers from the Franklin Township Police Department responded at approximately 2:50 p.m. to the scene of a motor vehicle crash. One of the drivers involved in the collision, later identified as Mr. Jackel, left the scene of the accident and ran into the woods. An officer followed him and Mr. Jackel told the officer that he had a gun and would shoot if the officer came any closer. Mr. Jackel then exited the woods holding a large pitchfork-like tool, entered an unoccupied marked police vehicle parked at the scene, and drove away. After a brief pursuit, Mr. Jackel stopped the stolen police vehicle on Oak Road in Buena Vista. He got out of the police car and initially walked toward the officers with his right hand behind his back. As he got closer Mr. Jackel began to run toward the officers, continuing to hold his right arm behind his back and ignoring commands to show his hands. As Mr. Jackel neared, Sgt. Jernegan fired one round from his service firearm, striking Mr. Jackel. Officers provided medical aid, but Mr. Jackel was pronounced dead 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.
After considering evidence, testimony from the OPIA investigation, and instructions on the legal standards, including whether the officer’s actions were legally justified, the state grand jury determined that no criminal charges should be brought against the officer. 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: 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 found at this link: http://www.nj.gov/oag/independent-prosecutor/