Grand Jury Doesn’t Charge NJ Trooper for Fatal Parkway Shooting in Bass River Twp., NJ
A grand jury has declined to hand up charges against a State Police trooper who ultimately shot and killed an unarmed 28-year-old New York man in a confrontation along the Garden State Parkway two years ago.
Maurice Gordon, of Poughkeepsie, was shot multiple times on May 23, 2020, by Sgt. Randall Wetzel on the highway in Bass River after Gordon tried to get into the driver's seat of a parked police cruiser, according to the Attorney General's Office.
Wetzel, of Atlantic County, first joined the force as a trooper in 2004.
Over a four-hour early morning span, Gordon had at least five interactions with different law enforcement officers in Brick, Waretown, Stafford and Bass River, as seen in a dozen files of dashboard camera footage and audio recordings released.
The first incident was when his vehicle first ran out of gas in the middle of the Parkway in Ocean County.
In two different incidents, police assisted him with moving his disabled vehicle out of the middle of Parkway lanes.
In two others, he's pulled over for allegedly speeding in excess of 100 mph, just minutes apart.
It's during that second speeding incident after Gordon sat in the back of a police vehicle, after he says to Wetzel that his own car had become disabled once again, that he and the trooper got into a deadly confrontation.
A day earlier, a friend, unidentified to the public, called 911 in Dutchess County, New York, saying he was worried about Gordon and didn't want him getting hurt, according to heavily redacted audio released by the AG's office.
The following is a timeline of events, based on the more than dozen video and audio files — primarily police dash-cam footage — as released in 2020:
May 22, 2020 3:30 a.m.: In a New York 911 call, a man can be heard telling a Dutchess County dispatcher of Gordon, "He came in and looked really panicked and everything, and he ______ so I think he's having _______ — but he's currently driving in his car right now."
The man tells the dispatcher that Gordon just left about 5 minutes prior in Gordon's black Honda Civic, adding "I just don't want him to get hurt or anything. I think he's definitely having _____ he said something about a paranormal experience."
As the emergency call is transferred to Poughkeepsie, the first dispatcher is heard recapping of the circumstances with Gordon: "He has a history of____" and according to the friend was "not acting correct."
May 23, 2020 3:13 a.m.: Nearly 24 hours after that call to New York first responders, Gordon is found standing next to his stopped Civic, which apparently had run out of gas in the middle lane of the southbound Garden State Parkway near Exit 91 in Brick.
Gordon is seen on a dashboard camera video of a marked vehicle being driven by an off-duty Red Bank Police officer, who calls a tow truck.
According to that officer, an off-duty state trooper driving to work in his personal car pulled over and helped push Gordon's Civic to the right shoulder, the AG's office said.
Since the trooper was not in a police vehicle, no recordings from it are available. That trooper then leaves, while the off-duty Red Bank officer remains at the scene.
3:23 until 3:32 a.m.: A different, on-duty state trooper arrives. Dashboard camera footage records the Red Bank officer saying he found Gordon stalled with no lights on and saying “he’s a little squirrely, there’s something strange, but he’s out of gas.”
The on-duty trooper then sets out road flares and leaves the scene.
4:07 until 4:26 a.m.: The on-duty trooper returns to the same spot on the Parkway shoulder near Exit 91, where Gordon is now with a tow truck driver.
The police ask if he has money for a tow; it's not clear what his answer is on the recordings.
The tow truck operator puts two gallons of gas into the Civic, according to the troopers, who tell Gordon he can stop at the nearest gas station to fill his tank and "save a lot of money that way."
4:54 until 5:11 a.m. A different state trooper finds Gordon standing outside his Civic, now stopped in the left lane of the southbound Parkway near Exit 72 in Waretown.
That trooper has Gordon get back into his car and physically pushes it over to the left shoulder. The trooper calls for a tow truck and radios that the car ran out of gas.
While standing alongside Gordon's driver-side door, the trooper appears to have Gordon follow his finger as he moves it, but there is no audio of their conversation on the released recordings.
The trooper eventually leaves the scene, as a tow truck driver is said to be on the way.
5:33 until 5:45 a.m.: After the state trooper leaves Gordon, but before a tow truck arrives, police say a civilian vehicle pulled alongside Gordon’s car near Exit 72 and its occupants offered Gordon a ride to a Wawa convenience store in Barnegat to get gas.
A surveillance camera inside the Wawa shows footage of a man who appeared to be Gordon, buying what appeared to be two red gas cans, and talking to an attendant, before getting back into a black vehicle.
Afterward, police said, Gordon returned to his car and continued driving south on the Parkway.
6:13 until 6:23 a.m.: A state trooper pulls Gordon over, saying he was speeding around 101 miles an hour near Exit 62 in Stafford. Gordon can be heard telling that trooper what something like he was trying to "get to the end of the video game," and that he was traveling to a "real far place."
The trooper then asks how his driving record is, and if he had anything to drink, and has him follow his finger in a field test.
The trooper then heads back to his police cruiser and writes up a ticket, while telling Gordon to be careful as it is Memorial Day weekend, and to be careful pulling back into traffic.
6:26 until 7:24 a.m.: Just three minutes or so after being ticketed for speeding, Gordon is stopped by Wetzel near Exit 50 in Bass River, still on the southbound side of the Parkway.
Wetzel says he stopped Gordon for speeding past him at 110 miles per hour. Wetzel asks Gordon to pull further off on the left side of the highway so he won't get hit, when Gordon says his car won't start.
Wetzel then can be heard calling for a tow truck and tells a dispatcher if it could be expedited, he’d appreciate it, as they were in a dangerous spot on the highway.
About 18 minutes after pulling Gordon over, Wetzel tells him he has a tow truck coming, asks Gordon if he has anyone coming, and asks whether he could take Gordon anywhere.
Gordon sounds like he says he's going to the nearest car dealership, followed by “far from here.”
Wetzel tells Gordon that early in the morning and due to the state's COVID-19 restrictions, car dealerships aren't open and says “I’m trying to help you out, where do you want me to take you to after this?”
Gordon eventually opens his driver's side door and Wetzel calls out, asking if he would rather wait in the back seat of the police vehicle, and Gordon said yes.
Wetzel says he is going to pat him down and they both enter the police cruiser, Gordon in the back seat, around 6:47 a.m.
While they are sitting, Wetzel askes Gordon if he takes medication and repeatedly asks him where he wanted to go next.
After several more minutes, Weztel says Gordon seems really upset, after which Gordon says he's going to leave and unbuckles his seatbelt. Wetzel tells him to re-buckle.
He asks Gordon if he has money to pay for a tow truck, and if he wants to go with the driver or wants the trooper to drop him off somewhere.
After about 20 minutes of sitting in the vehicle together, Wetzel asks Gordon if he wants to wear a mask, ahead of the tow truck arriving.
When Wetzel opens the back passenger door and hands Gordon a mask, Gordon appears to took the mask, then unbuckle his seat belt and get out of the car.
Wetzel then is heard telling Gordon to "get in the f***ing car," repeatedly, as they appear out of frame to struggle. In between, Wetzel calls over his radio for backup.
Gordon then appears to try and get into the driver's seat of the police vehicle, to which Wetzel can be heard telling him repeatedly to "get the f**** out of the car."
A physical struggle can be partially seen in the backward-facing camera footage.
Wetzel fires his gun six times, hitting Gordon with at least some of those shots, before handcuffing him.
Gordon had tried to enter the driver seat of Wetzel’s vehicle on two occasions, according to the AG's office — after the first try, Wetzel deployed pepper spray.
It was after the second attempt that Wetzel removed Gordon from the vehicle, obscured from the dashboard camera, and after a physical struggle on the left shoulder of the southbound Parkway, Sgt. Wetzel shot and killed Gordon with his service weapon, the AG's office has said.
In addition to the limited camera angle, the footage released was from a backward-facing camera showing a "reversed or 'mirror image' of the events," making it difficult to get a clear view of Gordon's final moments before being shot.
'Not a surprise'
The 28-year-old Gordon was from Jamaica and had been studying chemistry at a community college in New York, according to his family.
An attorney for Gordon's family, William Wagstaff, said that the grand jury's decision was “not a surprise” — Wagstaff previously said he didn't have confidence the case would be fairly investigated.
He also said data provided by the state showed that police use force against Black people eight times more than against white people, in similar scenarios, as reported by the Associated Press.
Dashboard cam footage, edited here for profanity, appeared to show the struggle between Wetzel and Gordon, ending with shots fired.
(Includes material Copyright 2022 The Associated Press.)
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