TRENTON — A state grand jury has voted to not file any criminal charges at the conclusion of its deliberations regarding the death of Joshua Gonzalez, 20, of Millville, N.J., who was shot and fatally wounded by a Vineland police officer in Vineland, N.J., on December 18, 2021.
Mr. Gonzalez’s death was investigated by the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA) and presented to New Jersey residents serving on the state 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, collection of forensic evidence, and a review of body-worn camera footage, video surveillance, and autopsy results from the medical examiner. This evidence, including interviews of the involved officers, was presented to the grand jury. After hearing the testimony and evidence, and receiving instructions on the law, the grand jury concluded its deliberations Tuesday, August 8, 2023, and voted “no bill,” meaning the grand jury concluded that no criminal charges should be filed against Vineland Police Sgt. Louis Platania.
According to the investigation, on December 18, 2021, at approximately 5 a.m., members of the Vineland Police Department were dispatched to the area of West Park Drive in response to 9-1-1 calls reporting an individual operating a construction backhoe in an erratic manner and striking vehicles. Several Vineland police officers encountered the construction backhoe being operated by Mr. Gonzalez and attempted to stop him for approximately thirty minutes, during which time Mr. Gonzalez caused extensive damage to several residences and vehicles, including three marked police SUVs, an ambulance, and an occupied civilian vehicle. Mr. Gonzalez flipped over police vehicles with the backhoe and attempted to strike police vehicles that were pursuing him.
Sgt. Louis Platania encountered Gonzalez operating the backhoe in the Penn Lincoln Mobile Home Park and observed it strike and damage an occupied residence as well as a police vehicle, which was pushed by the backhoe into another occupied residence. Sgt. Platania approached the backhoe on foot and fired his service weapon, fatally wounding Mr. Gonzalez. Medical aid was rendered by officers and emergency medical personnel. Mr. Gonzalez was pronounced deceased at the scene at approximately 5:48 a.m.
Recordings of the incident were previously released and 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.
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: