Cops not charged in shooting

By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 


An Essex County grand jury has voted not to bring c riminal charges against any of the Belleville police officers involved in the fatal shooting of a local man in his residence some 16 months ago, The Observer has learned.

“Just like the case in the Mid-West [Ferguson, Mo.] the grand jurors don’t believe there is sufficient evidence for a criminal indictment,” said New York attorney Marc Bengualid, representing Judy Breton, the widow of the victim, Dante Cespedes in a civil suit.

Cespedes, 40, was fatally shot July 9, 2013, in the living room of the couple’s Lake St. apartment by members of the Belleville Police Department who, police say, had responded to a domestic violence report.

Following the incident and an investigation, the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office said that Cespedes allegedly approached police officers with at least two knives and that the officers fired in self-defense.

In a tort claim notice filed in September 2013 against the township, the Belleville Police Department and Officers Matthew Dox, Charles Mollineaux, Angelo Quinn and a “John Doe,” Bengualid said that Cespedes “was shot at approximately 30 times by Belleville Police officers (14 times by … Quinn, 14 times by … Mollineaux and two times by … Dox) of which 24 entered his torso, arm and face.”

Bengualid subsequently filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Federal Court in Newark demanding $10 million in damages on behalf of his client.

Now that the criminal investigation has been laid to rest by the grand jurors’ return of a “no bill” verdict, after hearing – as is customary in such proceedings – essentially, the state’s side of the case through the presentation of its witnesses in secret testimony, Bengualid said he’ll be gearing up to proceed with the civil case.

“We’ll be trying to get whatever evidence we can from the county prosecutor,” he said. “And, meanwhile, there are a couple of other issues I’ll be pursuing that look promising.” He declined to elaborate.

Bengualid said that Assistant Essex County Prosecutor Naazneen Khan, who was assigned to present the matter to the grand jury, notified him about the outcome and told him she “wants to meet with [Cespedes’] family,” presumably to explain more about the process.

On Monday, Katherine Carter, spokeswoman for the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, confirmed that, “The grand jury found no cause to bring charges,” and declined to elaborate.

Bengualid said that he and his client would meet with the prosecutor’s representative, possibly along with other family members. “We just have to get the right time, after the Thanksgiving holiday, probably sometime in December.”

The attorney said the family was “upset” with the jurors’ decision not to indict, “but it’s a tough job for them to do with the evidence presented to them [by the state],” and added that, “there is a consistent pattern in all areas of the country,” that grand juries are reluctant to indict police officers in shooting cases.

“That’s a sort of ‘no man’s land,’ ’’ he suggested.

Because of the secret proceedings, Bengualid said he could offer little insight into how the grand jurors came to their decision. He said the prosecutor’s office “called a slew of witnesses,” including his client who testified in June, but he added that he wasn’t privy to the names of the other witnesses.

He said he expected to learn more after meeting with the assistant prosecutor.

The grand jury wasn’t convened to hear the facts in the Cespedes case until nearly a year after the shooting.

Asked for reaction to the grand jury outcome, Belleville Police Chief Joseph P. Rotonda said: “The grand jury heard the evidence presented and felt the officers’ actions were justified.”

At some point in the near future, Bengualid anticipates scheduling a pre-trial conference before U.S. District Court Magistrate Mark Falk, sitting in Newark.

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