In Videos, the Last Hours Before NJSP Trooper Shot, Killed NY Man
The New Jersey Attorney General's Office has released a dozen video and audio files, taken in the hours before an unarmed 28-year-old New York man was shot and killed in a confrontation with a New Jersey State Police trooper along the Garden State Parkway.
Maurice Gordon, of Poughkeepsie, was shot multiple times May 23 by a the trooper on the highway in Bass River.
Gordon had at least five interactions with law enforcement officers in Brick, Waretown, Stafford and Bass River over a four-hour early morning span, starting when his vehicle first ran out of gas in the middle of the Parkway in Ocean County, as seen in dashboard camera footage.
In two different incidents, police assisted him with his disabled vehicle in 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 authorities say his own car had become disabled once again, that he and an officer got into a deadly confrontation.
The Attorney General’s Office has also released the identity of the trooper who shot Gordon in the under-investigation incident, Sgt. Randall Wetzel. Wetzel, of Hammonton in Atlantic County, has been with the force for nearly 16 years after becoming a trooper in 2004.
Gov. Phil Murphy and the AG's office have said the case will be presented to a grand jury, which will decide whether to bring charges against Wetzel.
Dashboard cam footage, edited here for profanity, appeared to show a struggle between Wetzel and Gordon, ending with shots fired.
Just over 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, heavily redacted audio released by the AG's office shows.
The following is a timeline of events, based on the audio and video files released Monday, primarily police dashcam footage. It is unclear whether there are relevant events not depicted in the released media files:
May 22, 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, 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 has said — but because 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 he 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?”
Wetzel then asks Gordon if he would rather wait in the back seat of Wetzel’s police vehicle, and Gordon said yes. Wetzel says he was going to pat him down and they both enter the police cruiser 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 rebuckle.
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.
According to the AG's office, Gordon had attempted to enter the driver seat of Wetzel’s vehicle on two occasions. After the first occasion, Wetzel deployed pepper spray, the AG's office said. It was after the second occasion that Wetzel removed Gordon from the vehicle and, after a physical struggle on the left shoulder of the southbound Parkway, Sgt. Wetzel shot and killed Gordon with his service weapon, according to the AG's office.
An attorney for Gordon's family, William Wagstaff, had been allowed to watch sections of video before its release Monday. He told the New York Daily News "Maurice did not physically engage the officer. The officer physically engaged him three separate times."
Wagstaff also said he doesn't have confidence the case will be fairly investigated.
In addition to the limited camera angle, the footage released Monday was from a backward-facing camera that showed a "reversed or 'mirror image' of the events," making it difficult to get a clear view of Gordon's final moments before being shot.