State Grand Jury Declines to Criminally Charge Paterson Police Detective in Connection with Fatal Shooting in Paterson on December 29, 2021

For Immediate Release: December 11, 2023

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 Thelonious McKnight, 25, of Paterson, New Jersey, during a fatal police-involved shooting on December 29, 2021, in Paterson.

Mr. McKnight’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 interviews of witnesses, photographs, autopsy results from the medical examiner, and a review of video footage from several sources, including civilian and storefront cameras and a city closed-circuit TV camera. 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 December 11, 2023, and voted “no bill,” meaning jurors concluded no criminal charges should be filed against Paterson Police Detective Mohammed Bashir, who shot Mr. McKnight.

According to the investigation, a Paterson police detective at police headquarters on December 29, 2021, observed suspicious activity shortly after 6 p.m. on a recorded CCTV surveillance camera stationed at East Main and Hillman streets. Video from that camera showed two individuals, later identified as Mr. McKnight and another individual, with what appeared to be handguns. Shortly thereafter, Detective Bashir and other detectives assigned to the Paterson Police Department’s Community Stabilization Unit left headquarters and apprehended the other individual seen on camera with a loaded handgun in the area of an address on  Jefferson Street. Mr. McKnight could not be immediately located, and the law enforcement officers returned to headquarters.

Later, at approximately 8:40 p.m., the same detective who had earlier observed Mr. McKnight and the other individual with what appeared to be handguns observed Mr. McKnight standing in the area of an address on East Main Street. Detectives arrived at that location in an unmarked police vehicle, got out, approached Mr. McKnight, and asked him to remove his hands from his sweatshirt pocket. Although Mr. McKnight initially complied, he put his hands back into his pocket. Detective Bashir performed a pat-down of Mr. McKnight’s sweatshirt, felt a gun, and called out “gun” to alert his colleagues. Detectives then drew their weapons. Mr. McKnight ignored multiple orders to show his hands. He walked away with his hands still in his pockets, up a flight of stairs, into an elevated alleyway, and up to a porch in the rear yard. There, Mr. McKnight attempted to open the rear door to a residence but was unable to get inside.

According to the statements of the two detectives on scene, at this time, Mr. McKnight retrieved a firearm from his sweatshirt pocket and pointed it at a detective standing in the alleyway, three or four feet away. Detective Bashir saw Mr. McKnight pull the trigger but the weapon did not fire; later investigation revealed the firearm was equipped with a safety. After seeing the trigger being pulled by Mr. McKnight, Detective Bashir fired his 40-caliber service weapon.

Upon being fired upon, Mr. McKnight turned his attention to Detective Bashir, and the two subsequently exchanged gunfire. Mr. McKnight fell to the ground after being struck by multiple rounds fired by Detective Bashir. Fourteen 40-caliber shell casings were recovered from the scene, which were fired by the detective. A 9mm handgun was recovered near Mr. McKnight along with nine 9mm discharged shell casings. Ballistics testing confirmed that these 9mm shell casings had been fired from the weapon recovered next to Mr. McKnight that detectives stated Mr. McKnight had fired at them. Subsequent lab testing also determined that the sleeve cuffs of the hooded sweatshirt Mr. McKnight was wearing contained particles consistent with those found in gunshot residue. None of Mr. McKnight’s shots struck anyone.

Police and emergency medical personnel rendered first aid to Mr. McKnight, who was pronounced deceased at the scene by a physician from St. Joseph’s University Medical Center at 9:11 p.m.

Video footage from civilian, storefront, and body-worn cameras as well as a city closed-circuit TV camera were previously released, along with radio transmissions and 911 calls related to the shooting. Those recordings are posted online: Click here for the recordings.

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. 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.

Pursuant to the Independent Prosecutor Directive and SOPs, OPIA will refer the officers involved in this matter to the appropriate law enforcement agency for administrative review in accordance with the Attorney General’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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