Kearny cop is cleared in ’16 shooting

By Karen Zautyk

KEARNY — Following a lengthy and comprehensive investigation into a Kearny police officer’s shooting of a shoplifting suspect at Walmart in 2016, the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office last week announced it has determined that “the use of deadly force was legally justified” and the case will not be presented to a grand jury.

Additionally, Prosecutor Esther Suarez’s statement noted, the results of the investigation and the legal conclusions reached were reviewed by the state Attorney General’s Office, which agreed with the HCPO’s conclusions.

The officer in question reportedly has been on administrative leave pending resolution of the investigation. He has not been publicly identified.

The incident occurred the morning of Sept. 16, 2016, when the officer, in full uniform and driving a marked patrol car, was dispatched to the store on a call “of a shoplifter engaged with Walmart’s security staff,” the HCPO statement said.

Shortly before the officer’s arrival, the suspect fled the store and entered a silver Honda Accord in the parking lot, which a Walmart manager pointed out to the cop. According to the HCPO, the officer stopped his patrol unit near the parked Honda and approached it on foot, “repeatedly ordering the driver out of the vehicle” and unholstering his firearm “in a display of constructive authority.”

As the officer walked toward it, the Honda reversed out of its spot and struck the vehicle parked directly behind it. At this point, the HCPO noted, the officer was positioned in a small area between his patrol car and the front of the Honda, which then accelerated toward him. It was then that the officer fired — three shots.

The Honda turned away, the officer ceased firing, and the car fled the lot.

“The police officer was visibly shaken following the episode and remained at the scene,” the HCPO noted.

Multiple KPD units subsequently arrived, as did the HCPO and its Shooting Response Team.

Suarez’s statement noted that her office “conducted an independent investigation into the entire incident,” including individually interviewing all five civilian witnesses to what had occurred and canvassing the scene for physical evidence.

The HCPO also took possession of the officer’s duty weapon and magazine, and photographs were taken of the spent shell casings and of the scene.

HCPO investigators also obtained Walmart video surveillance footage showing the parking lot “and the complete interaction between the officer and the Honda.”

In addition, all KPD radio transmissions and phone calls related to the investigation were obtained and reviewed.

“The sworn statements given by the civilian witnesses corroborated the physical evidence, as well as the surveillance video and radio transmissions made and received by law enforcement,” the HCPO reported. “After a thorough review of all the evidence, the HCPO has concluded that the officer’s use of force was justified” under the attorney general’s Use of Force Policy and the applicable law, which permit the use of deadly force when an officer “reasonably believes such action is immediately necessary to protect the officer from imminent death or serious bodily harm.”

“Due to the small area between two cars with no clear avenue of escape,” the HCPO concluded, the officer did reasonably believe “he did not have sufficient time to safely move out of the Honda’s path” and his “fear of death or serious bodily injury was reasonable.”

And what of the fleeing suspect?

Police said he, and his Honda, were located later that morning in Newark — by a KPD detective. The suspect, identified as Ramon Martinez, 43, of Newark, reportedly had wounds to his left arm and right shoulder and was treated at an area hospital.

At the time of his arrest, it was reported that Martinez was charged with eluding police, receiving stolen property and shoplifting, but the status of that prosecution is not known.


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