Grand jury declines to file charges against police officers who shot motorist in New Jersey
An Essex County grand jury has opted not to charge the officers involved in the 2020 shooting of Jeffery Sutton, a motorist in Bloomfield, New Jersey. The decision means Bloomfield police are also off the hook for filing charges against the suspect that a Team 12 Investigation showed were false.
“I was surprised and certainly disappointed that the grand jury did not hold the police accountable for what appeared to be gross misrepresentations in their reports,” said Sutton’s attorney, Michael Ashley.
Officers shot and wounded Sutton during a traffic stop in November 2020. They charged him with striking two police officers with his car, causing injuries to both. But last June, Kane In Your Corner obtained video of the incident that showed Sutton did not strike anyone. Only then, six months after the incident, did police admit the original charges were inaccurate.
The lack of an indictment leaves some police transparency advocates disappointed, but not surprised.
“The old adage is that a prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich,” says attorney C.J. Griffin. “But for whatever reason, when it comes to investigations of police shootings, they can never obtain an indictment.”
Jennifer Sellitti, of the Office of the Public Defender, adds, “Whether or not the shooting was justified, we still have the problem of the officer saying something under oath, that appears not to be true.”
Because grand jury testimony is generally kept secret under New Jersey law, there’s usually no way to know what evidence jurors were presented with. But Kane In Your Corner obtained a copy of the testimony in Sutton’s grand jury. The Bloomfield Police detective who wrote the original charges testified in that hearing as well. In sworn testimony that Sellitti and Griffin both call “highly unusual,” he said the reason he wrongly claimed Sutton struck and injured officers was that he wrote the charges without speaking to the officers involved.
“Since that time, you’ve had the opportunity to review the surveillance videos and… speak with (the) captain and sergeant?” the assistant prosecutor asked, according to the transcript.
“Yes, sir,” the detective replied.
“And they confirmed that neither was actually struck by the vehicle?” the prosecutor continued.
The detective answered, “Yes, sir. Just within very close proximity…”
The prosecutor followed up, “However, you didn’t have that information at the time?”
“No, sir,” the detective responded.
It’s an explanation Sutton’s attorney finds hard to believe.
“That is, at best, a gross oversight. At worst, a clear misrepresentation,” Ashley says.
In addition to the grand jury investigation, officers can face internal discipline if their department believes they filed a false report. Team 12 asked Bloomfield police to comment multiple times over a period of days. Police did not respond.