Under the Attorney General’s Directive on Police-Use-of-Force Investigations, the incident was investigated by the Attorney General’s Shooting Response Team, made up of investigators from the Division of Criminal Justice and the New Jersey State Police Major Crime Unit. As a result of the investigation, Director Elie Honig of the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice determined that presentation of the police-involved shooting to a grand jury was not required under the Directive, because the undisputed facts showed that the use of force was justified under the law. The investigation included witness interviews and forensic analysis of the scene and other evidence.
Testimony and evidence from the Shooting Response Team’s investigation was presented to a state grand jury for consideration of charges against the alleged gunman and a second man who allegedly was armed with a handgun at the party. The grand jury today indicted Jose A. Lopez, 30, of Woodbine, on charges including first-degree attempted murder, for allegedly firing at the crowd of partiers, and third-degree aggravated assault, for allegedly pointing the handgun at the two state troopers. The second man, Jermaine Russell, 27, of Woodbine, was charged in a separate indictment with second-degree unlawful possession of a handgun, for allegedly having the gun in his possession at the party.
The incident occurred at approximately 12:30 a.m. on Nov. 16, 2014 outside a home in the 600 block of Washington Avenue in Woodbine where a party was being held. Two state troopers from the New Jersey State Police Woodbine Station were conducting surveillance of the party because the State Police had received a tip that there might be retaliation at the party for an earlier shooting in Woodbine. The two troopers were not in uniform, but one had State Police markings on his jacket. Shortly before the shooting, the two troopers, who were watching the party from hidden positions across the street, called for backup from uniformed troopers because they heard a growing commotion at the party and a physical altercation began. They subsequently saw Lopez emerge onto Washington Avenue from behind the house where the party was being held and approach a crowd at the front of the house. Lopez allegedly raised his hand in the air and fired several shots from a handgun. Lopez then allegedly leveled the gun at the crowd and fired several shots at the crowd. No one was struck by the shots.
The state troopers quickly drew their 9mm duty weapons and began running toward Lopez. As they were running, both troopers yelled “State Police” and “drop the gun.” Lopez allegedly turned toward the troopers, pointing his outstretched handgun at them. One of the troopers immediately fired four rounds from his service weapon at Lopez, before the weapon malfunctioned. None of the bullets struck Lopez or anyone else. The troopers heard more gunfire coming from the area in front of the home where the party was being held. They did not see who was responsible for that gunfire.
Lopez allegedly ran up Washington Avenue, with the two troopers in pursuit, and ran into a wooded area behind some homes. The trooper who had fired at Lopez fell and suffered a minor hand injury during that foot chase. The two troopers waited for arriving uniformed troopers, with whom they set up a perimeter of the woods to prevent Lopez from escaping. Troopers entered the woods, and one uniformed trooper arrested Lopez without further resistance. A .380-caliber handgun with an empty magazine was found in the woods about 40 feet from where Lopez was arrested, along the route that he had run. Ballistic analysis matched that gun to six .380-caliber shell casings found at the location where the troopers allegedly saw Lopez firing his gun.
Russell, who attended the party, was charged with possession of another .380-caliber handgun which was found behind a residence adjacent to the party house. Forensic evidence linked Russell to that gun.
Lopez was indicted today on the following charges:
The first-degree charges carry a sentence of 10 to 20 years in state prison – including a term of parole ineligibility equal to 85 percent of the sentence imposed for the attempted murder charge – and a fine of up to $200,000. Second-degree charges carry a sentence of five to 10 years in prison – including a term of parole ineligibility equal to 85 percent of the sentence imposed for the aggravated assault charge – and a fine of up to $150,000. The charge of possession of a weapon as a convicted felon carries a mandatory term of parole ineligibility of five years, and the other weapons charges carry a mandatory term of parole ineligibility equal to one-third to one-half of the sentence imposed or 3 ½ years, whichever is greater. Third-degree charges carry a sentence of three to five years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000, while fourth-degree charges carry a sentence of up to 18 months and a $10,000 fine.
Supervising Deputy Attorney General Andrew B. Johns presented the cases involving Lopez and Russell to the state grand jury for the Attorney General’s Shooting Response Team.
The indictments are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. The indictments were handed up to Superior Court Judge Mary C. Jacobson in Mercer County, who assigned them to Cape May County, where Lopez and Russell will be ordered to appear for arraignment. Lopez is at the Cape May County Jail with bail set at $500,000. Russell is free on $75,000 bail.
With respect to the police-involved shooting, after analyzing all of the facts and circumstances of this incident, it was concluded by the Division of Criminal Justice that the trooper who fired at Lopez acted appropriately under the Attorney General’s Use-of-Force Policy in that he used an acceptable level of force in firing his 9mm service handgun at Lopez to protect himself and his fellow trooper. 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.
This matter was reviewed by Director Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. All portions of the Attorney General’s Directive on Police-Use-of-Force Investigations which were in effect during the course of the investigation were complied with.