Cop who shot man in back charged with assault
A 40-year-old police officer was running toward the sound of gunfire around 3:15 a.m. in Paterson, NJ, the state’s third-largest city. A young man in a white sweatshirt rushed nearby. The officer followed him and can be heard on video repeatedly ordering him to drop a weapon.
But the officer, Jerry Moravek, never told the man, later identified as Khalif Cooper, to stop running before firing his gun, according to body-worn camera video. Mr Cooper, then 28, was shot in the back while running, leaving him with a crippling spinal injury.
On Monday, State Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin took the unusual step of charging Constable Moravek with aggravated assault and official misconduct. Mr Platkin said Officer Moravek’s decision to shoot violated New Jersey’s use of force policy, which requires the use of the minimum amount of force that is reasonable and necessary.
“The allegations we are discussing today are so outside of those boundaries – shooting an unarmed man in the back, resulting in serious injury – that criminal charges are appropriate,” the attorney general said.
According to a video of the June 11, 2022 shooting released by the Passaic County District Attorney’s Office, a gun was found near the scene of the shooting, but Mr. Platkin said it was not ” in the victim’s possession or within reach”.
“With respect to a fleeing suspect, lethal force may only be used when the suspect’s flight would create an imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury to the officer or a member of the public,” he said. added during a press conference held to announce the charges.
Mr Moravek’s lawyer, Patrick Caserta, said the criminal charges were not warranted.
“During a short foot chase, there came a time when Constable Moravek believed his life and the lives of others on the street were in danger,” Caserta said in a statement.
“He believed in that split second that the person he was chasing was turning to shoot him with that handgun and he realized that if he missed the bullets could hit anyone nearby. He made that decision in a split second and fired his gun.
The Office of Public Integrity and State Accountability, headed by Thomas Eicher, investigated the shooting.
“Under the law, discharging a firearm is supposed to be a last resort, used by officers when they or the public face an imminent threat of death or serious injury. That just wasn’t the situation here,” Eicher said in a statement. “This error in judgement, this violation of the law and of police procedures, has had a high cost for the victim and must have consequences.”
The shot left bullet fragments in Mr. Cooper’s spine, leaving him unable to walk, according to the attorney general’s office. He could not immediately be reached to comment on the charges against Constable Moravek.
After Mr. Cooper is on the ground and handcuffed, Constable Moravek can be heard asking him, “Why did you run from me?”
“I was scared,” Mr. Cooper said, “but I don’t have a gun though.”