TRENTON – A state grand jury has voted not to file any criminal charges at the conclusion of its deliberations regarding the death of Frank A. Lovato, 20, of Wyckoff, N.J., who collided with a car while operating a motorcycle and being pursued by Officer John Ferraro of the Clifton Police Department on June 17, 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 review of video footage and radio transmissions, interviews of witnesses, and autopsy results from the Office of the Chief State Medical Examiner. After hearing testimony and evidence from the investigation, the grand jury completed its deliberations yesterday, Dec, 6, and concluded that no criminal charges should be filed against Officer Ferraro.
According to the investigation, at approximately 1:50 a.m. on June 17, 2019, Officer Ferraro was in a marked police vehicle when he attempted to pull over the operators of two motorcycles he suspected to be stolen. When the operators refused to stop, Officer Ferraro pursued them with his lights and siren activated. The motorcyclists, one of whom was Mr. Lovato, proceeded through multiple red lights in a commercial district and traveled at estimated speeds of up to 100 mph during the pursuit, which lasted approximately 10 minutes. Mr. Lovato ultimately rode the motorcycle he was operating through a red light at Van Houten Avenue and Broad Street in Clifton at a high rate of speed, striking the passenger side door of a Mercedes sedan that had the right of way. The violent impact wrecked the motorcycle and caused Mr. Lovato to be ejected onto the roadway. Police and medical personnel rendered first aid, but Mr. Lovato was pronounced deceased at the scene at 2:15 a.m. The driver and passenger of the Mercedes sustained non-life threatening injuries. The second motorcyclist eluded capture.
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/