TRENTON – A state grand jury has voted not to file any criminal charges at the conclusion of its deliberations regarding the death of Malik Canty, 36, of New York, N.Y., who died when an officer of the U.S. Marshals Service NY/NJ Regional Fugitive Task Force fired his service weapon at Mr. Canty on July 8, 2020 in Paterson. The officer was previously identified as Deportation Officer Sean Clayton of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, who was assigned to the U.S. Marshals Task Force.
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 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 yesterday, March 28, and voted “no bill,” meaning a majority of grand jurors found that the actions of the officer who shot Mr. Canty should not result in charges against him.
According to the investigation, at approximately 6:30 a.m. on July 8, 2020, officers of the U.S. Marshals Service NY/NJ Regional Fugitive Task Force went to an apartment in Paterson, seeking to arrest Mr. Canty on a warrant out of New York State for a parole violation. He also was a person of interest in a New York City homicide. When task force officers were invited into the apartment, Mr. Canty was not in the front room. Officers gathered the occupants of the apartment, including several children, into the front room. Officers then heard and observed a person in a rear bedroom, recognizing him as Mr. Canty. The officers asked Mr. Canty to walk towards them, but he did not comply. Instead he closed the bedroom door. A task force member—other than Officer Clayton—opened the bedroom door, at which time officers observed Mr. Canty pointing a gun at the officers. Mr. Canty then fired in the direction of the officers. Officer Clayton returned fire, fatally wounding Mr. Canty. A loaded 9mm handgun was recovered near Mr. Canty, who 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.
After considering the facts, evidence, and testimony from the OPIA investigation, the state grand jury found the actions of the officer were justified and therefore no 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:
Further information about how fatal police encounters are investigated in New Jersey under the directive is found at this link: