Trenton, NJ, Officer Indicted For Using Pepper Spray on Man Who Later Died
TRENTON — A grand jury has ruled to file a criminal charge against a city police officer in connection with his repeated use of pepper spray on a man who died several days later.
At the time of the altercation and his arrest, the victim, 64-year-old Joseph Ahr, had COVID-19 and lung issues.
The Office of the Attorney General announced on Wednesday that Officer Nicholas Piotrowsi was indicted on one count of official misconduct related to the encounter. A grand jury concluded its deliberations on Jan. 3 after hearing testimony and evidence from the investigation.
"Police officers are required to be measured in their use of force in every encounter, even under challenging conditions," said Attorney General Matthew Platkin. "This officer resorted to using pepper spray during a confrontation with a civilian in a manner that was unnecessary and contrary to his training, mishandling a situation that could have concluded so much differently."
Officers responded to a home on Monmouth Street at around 5:30 p.m. on July 6, 2020, after receiving a call from Ahr's son. The son came to the front door, and then Ahr came to the door to speak with the officers, officials say.
After the son went back into the house, Ahr remained on the porch and engaged in verbal dispute with the officers.
According to bodycam footage released by the Attorney General's Office, officers tried to detain Ahr and he pulled away multiple times. Officers then took him to the ground and handcuffed him.
During the encounter, Piotrowski deployed pepper spray at close range on multiple occasions directly in Ahr's face.
Ahr was telling officers repeatedly that he could not breathe.
"I got lung problems," Ahr said at one point after sitting up.
Officers summoned medical personnel to the scene and Ahr was treated with oxygen. He was transported to Capital Health Regional Medical Center in Trenton, where he died 18 days later.
The manner of Ahr's death was ruled as a homicide by the medical examiner, the Attorney General's Office said. The cause of death was listed as "acute respiratory failure following the use of pepper spray during an arrest of an individual with chronic pulmonary disease and COVID-19."
The grand jury indictment did not involve charges directly related to Ahr's death.
If convicted on the misconduct charge, Piotrowski faces up to 10 years in prison, the Attorney General's Office said.