Cops Justified in Killing Suicidal Man, Ocean County Prosecutor Says
LITTLE EGG HARBOR — Police officers were justified in shooting and killing a knife-wielding suicidal man in November 2015, prosecutors said Friday.
Police had been called to find Francis Hartnett, 47, after his wife reported that he had slit his wrists and ran away from home.
Police searched through the woods near his father's home on Royal Timbers Apartment Complex on Wild Oaks Court before knocking on the door and entering.
Police said Hartnett appeared brandishing a knife. Officers retreated and opened fire after Hartnett walked toward them with the knife and ignored the officers' commands, they said.
Hartnett was struck by 13 bullets, investigators said.
Prosecutors also said Hartnett had a history of suicide attempts.
County prosecutors investigate all shootings involving local police officers and release public reports summarizing the investigative findings after a review by the state Attorney General's Office. Authorities do not usually publicly identify police officers by name.
Ocean County continues to investigate another police shooting. Christopher Apostolos, 56, was shot and killed by Toms River police on March 15 following an "altercation" with police. Officials have not released other details.
Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph D. Coronato said his office chose not to present the Hartnett case to a grand jury because "the use of deadly force by the police officers was legally justified" and "there are no material facts in dispute."
The full text of Coronato's report appears below:
In compliance with the New Jersey Attorney General’s Law Enforcement Directive 2006-5 (July 28, 2015) regarding the uniform statewide procedures and best practices for conducting police officer use-of-force investigations, this public statement is being issued regarding the November 17, 2015 fatal officer involved shooting of Francis Hartnett that occurred in Little Egg Harbor Township.
The Office of the Attorney General agrees with the findings of Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph D. Coronato that the undisputed facts of this case establish that the use of deadly force by the police officers was legally justified. The Attorney General also agrees that there are no material facts in dispute with regard to the officers’ use of force so a Grand Jury presentation is not necessary.
The facts regarding the use of force are as follows: On November 17, 2015, at 11:35 a.m., the Little Egg Harbor Police Department received a phone call from Francis Hartnett’s ex-wife reporting that he had just slit his wrists and he may be in the woods near his father’s residence in the Royal Timbers Apartment Complex on Wild Oaks Court, Little Egg Harbor, New Jersey. Three uniformed Patrolmen and three Detectives responded to the location. A search for Francis Hartnett in the woods surrounding the apartment complex was met with negative results. The officers then knocked on the door of Hartnett’s father’s apartment but did not receive a response.
The officers collectively decided to check inside the residence to determine if Mr.
Hartnett was inside and injured, or had already committed suicide, and/or if there was anyone else at-risk in the apartment. One of the detectives retrieved a key from the management office. The officers assembled in front of apartment according to proper police entry training. The detective unlocked the door and turned the handle so that it was unlatched leaving the door slightly ajar.
Once the door was open, one of the uniformed patrolmen announced “Police” and commenced verbal instructions to the occupant of the home, later identified as Francis Hartnett. One of the detectives reported hearing a voice calmly say, “Get out.” The uniformed patrolmen crossed slowly over the front door threshold, consistent with standard police protocol, and stopped inside the front door. All three uniformed patrolmen reported that Mr. Hartnett appeared in front of them, down the short hallway, from the left hand side of the apartment. Mr. Hartnett was holding a knife in his right hand and he yelled back at the uniformed officers to get out of the residence. Mr. Hartnett was beating on his chest with his left hand. Mr. Hartnett started slowly in the direction of the uniformed patrolmen with the knife in his hand. The uniformed patrolmen all reported that Mr. Hartnett was being instructed to stop and drop the knife. He ignored those commands and charged at the uniformed patrolmen with the knife raised up in an aggressive manner. The uniformed patrolmen retreated and fired their duty weapons multiple times at Mr. Hartnett. As they fired, the subject continued towards them. After they stopped firing their weapons, the uniformed patrolmen had retreated and were positioned outside of the apartment in the common area of the building. During the exchange, the door to the apartment had swung shut.
Mr. Hartnett’s body was found at the base of the front door in the location where the police officers were originally standing. A post mortem examination of Mr. Hartnett’s body determined that Mr. Hartnett’s wrists were slit and that the cause of death was multiple gunshot injuries after being hit by thirteen bullets. Subsequent investigation corroborated that Mr. Hartnett had a history of suicide attempts and had texted his ex-girlfriend a picture of his slit wrists on the day of his death.
The Office of the Attorney General and Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato are satisfied that the undisputed facts establish that the Little Egg Harbor police officers used the appropriate force necessary to protect their own lives and safety and were legally justified in doing so. This investigation was conducted consistent with the New Jersey Attorney General’s Law Enforcement Directive 2006-5 (July 28, 2015) regarding the uniform statewide procedures and best practices for conducting police officer use-of-force investigations.
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