Nearly a year after Belleville resident Dante Cespedes was gunned down in a fusillade of bullets fired by three township cops in his apartment, an Essex County grand jury has been convened to investigate the fatal shooting.
Katherine Carter, spokeswoman for the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, wouldn’t confirm or deny the grand jury activity but Marc Bengualid, the New York attorney representing Cespedes’ widow Judy Breton, said his client was called to testify June 20.
Other witnesses who appeared before the grand jurors included several Belleville police personnel, according to Bengualid, who said he was unable to identify the officers.
Bengualid said he believes that, “more witnesses are coming,” including the Essex County medical examiner.
Questioning of witnesses is being handled by Essex County Assistant Prosecutor Naazneen Khan so, as is standard practice, the grand jurors essentially get to hear only one side of the case.
Grand jury proceedings are secret unless a witness chooses to reveal what he or she told the grand jury and Bengualid said he’s advised his client to refrain from discussing her testimony for fear of prejudicing the investigation.
Acting Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn Murray reported that Cespedes, 40, was fatally shot July 9, 2013, in the living room of the couple’s Lake St. apartment by Belleville police who were trying to arrest him there after he allegedly assaulted his wife.
Murray said that Cespedes allegedly approached police with at least two knives and officers fired in self-defense.
On Sept. 11, 2013, Bengualid filed a tort claim notice, on behalf of Breton and her four children, against the township, the Belleville Police Department and Officers Matthew Dox, Charles Mollineaux, Angelo Quinn and a “John Doe.”
The claim, a prelude to the filing of a lawsuit, said that Cespedes “was shot at approximately 30 times by Belleville Police officers (14 times by P.O. Angelo Quinn, 14 times by P.O. Charles P. Mollineaux and 2 times by P.O. Matthew Dox) of which 24 penetrated his torso, arm and face.”
The claim alleges that the death of Cespedes resulted from “negligence, obstruction of justice, abuse of process … [and] failing to follow police procedures … [and] police brutality, excessive force, conspiracy to violate claimant’s civil rights … [and] racial discrimination….”
A wrongful death lawsuit that demands $10 million in damages was subsequently filed by Bengualid in Federal Court in Newark. No trial date has been scheduled.
In the meantime, Bengualid said he is awaiting the outcome of the grand jury probe.
– Ron Leir