NJ Police Officer Gets Slapped With Serious Charges After Wild 3 AM Chase, Shooting
PATERSON — A city police officer is facing charges of aggravated assault and official misconduct after shooting a fleeing man this summer.
Officer Jerry Moravek had responded with several other officers to a noise complaint on June 11 at 3:20 a.m.
As a small crowd in the street is dispersed, gunshots can be heard on Moravek’s body cam video recording, which can be viewed here. Warning: Graphic language and violence.
It is rare for police officers in New Jersey — and around the country — to face criminal charges for use of force or fatal shootings.
The charges against Moravek come weeks after authorities in Tennessee charged five Memphis officers with second-degree murder in the beating death of Tyre Nichols, the most high-profile police killing in the country since the death of George Floyd in 2020.
Paterson officer now faces assault charges
During a news conference Monday morning, state Attorney General Matt Platkin said Moravek has been charged with second-degree aggravated assault and second-degree official misconduct for allegedly using deadly force unnecessarily.
He said the facts of the case show Moravek did repeatedly order the suspect to drop the gun "but never once ordered him to stop running, to get to the ground, or did he warn the victim that he was going to use deadly force."
"Every officer is taught that before deadly force can be considered, it must be determined that there is a threat to that officer, to a fellow officer or to the public."
Officer yelled 'drop the gun'
As the officer began running towards the area where the shots rang out, a man rushes by him and Moravek went after him, yelling several times “drop the gun.”
Seconds later, Moravek fired his weapon, striking 28-year-old Khalif Cooper, of Paterson, in the back.
As the officer handcuffed the man, Cooper repeatedly said he did not have a gun and when Moravek asked him why he ran, the man replied “I was scared.”
It turns out the man who was shot was not carrying a gun but it remains unclear if he had been carrying a handgun found nearby.
Deadly force a last resort
Platkin said the guidelines allow officers to use deadly force "only when it is immediately necessary to protect the officer or another person from imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury."
He also stressed if a suspect is fleeing, "deadly force can only be used when a suspect’s escape would create an imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury to the officer or to a member of the public if the suspect is not immediately apprehended."
He noted every officer knows that firing a weapon is meant to be a last resort and officers have a responsibility to use force only after giving civilians a chance to comply with orders, if doing so is feasible.
“The fact remains that Moravek fired at an unarmed subject running away, without giving proper warnings.”
The gunshot to the victim’s back left bullet fragments in his spine, leaving him unable to walk.
Lawyer disputes the facts surrounding the shooting
Defense attorney Patrick Caserta declined to be interviewed but did release a statement that said:
“Officer Moravek heard gun shots and saw someone running towards him. His first reaction was that the person might be a victim who needed help but as he approached the man, that person ran past and away from him. It was then that Officer Moravek saw that he had a handgun. Did this person fire those shots? Did he just shoot or kill someone? Regardless, it was Officer Moravek’s duty to pursue and apprehend that person even though it clearly meant he would be risking his own life.
"During a short foot chase, there came a time when Officer Moravek believed his life and the life of other people in the street was at risk. He believed at that split-second that the person he was chasing was turning to fire that handgun at him and he realized that if he missed, the bullets could strike anyone nearby. He made that split-second decision and fired his weapon.
"He shot twice. He stopped as soon as the threat was lessened. As the bodycam video previously released in this matter clearly show, Officer Moravek immediately went to the person to provide aid and he made repeated, urgent calls for EMS. It is also obvious from the bodycam video that Officer Moravek did not know the suspect had tossed the handgun a short distance away.
"While I note that the OAG’s statement of probable cause says that neither fingerprint nor DNA evidence ties the gun to the suspect, I also note that the OAG does not deny that the suspect had the gun nor do they say whether any other evidence shows the suspect had a gun.
"Further, and of considerable concern to me professionally, is the fact that we were fully cooperating with the OAG’s investigation. Just a few weeks ago, on January 13th, I was contacted by the OAG and asked if my client would meet with them for a second time to review this matter. Due to my schedule, the OAG and I agreed that we would speak again in February. Instead, for reasons which I expect will be quite obvious to many, the OAG, without reaching out to us, made a decision to file criminal charges and hold their press conference.
"Officer-involved-shootings are very serious matters which require the highest level of scrutiny, thorough investigation and complete transparency. I have been providing counsel to police officers in such matters for decades. Currently, the State is taking about two years to thoroughly investigate, review OIS shootings and present their findings to a Grand Jury. Officer Moravek’s matter has been pending since June 11, 2022. I see no reason, or at least no good reason, why a decision to file charges was suddenly made and why the OAG did not want to have my client’s full cooperation.”