Bass River, NJ – A grand jury has refused to indict a New Jersey state police sergeant who fatally shot a suspect accused of attempting to get behind the wheel of his patrol car and trying to steal the sergeant’s gun from his hands.
Under New Jersey law, the fatal encounter between 28-year-old Maurice Gordon and New Jersey State Police (NJSP) Sergeant Randy Wetzel was required to be reviewed by a grand jury in order to eliminate potential personal or political agendas from influencing charging decisions, the Daily Voice reported.
The jury reviewed video footage, witness interviews, forensics evidence, and autopsy results before determining on May 16 that “the actions of the trooper who shot Mr. Gordon should not result in charges against him,” Acting New Jersey General Matthew Platkin explained.
“An officer may use deadly force in New Jersey when the officer reasonably believes it is immediately necessary to protect the officer or another person from imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm,” Platkin said, according to the Daily Voice.
The incident occurred on the Garden State Parkway on the morning of May 23, 2020, NJ.com reported.
Platkin said one of Gordon’s friends placed a 911 call to police in Dutchess County, New York, the day prior saying he “was concerned because Mr. Gordon appeared to be in a panicked state,” according to the Daily Voice.
Over the course of the next 24 hours, Gordon traveled from New York, through Connecticut, and into New Jersey, where he ran out of gas in the middle lane of the Garden State Parkway near Brick.
An off-duty Red Bank police officer and an off-duty NJSP trooper stopped to help him until an on-duty trooper arrived at the scene.
The trooper set out flares and returned a short while later to find Gordon speaking with a tow truck driver, the Daily Voice reported.
But Gordon’s vehicle became disabled again further down the highway near Waretown a short while later.
Another NJSP trooper found the car stopped in the left lane, so he set out flares and called a tow truck to help him, Platkin said.
A civilian ultimately gave Gordon a ride to Barnegat, after which Gordon returned to his car and resumed his trip, the Daily Voice reported.
But as he neared Stafford, Gordon was pulled over by yet another NJSP trooper for traveling over 100 miles per hour, according to Platkin.
He continued on his way after being issued a summons, only to be pulled over by Sgt. Wetzel near Bass River just minutes later for speeding down the road at more than 110 miles per hour, the Daily Voice reported.
It was just before 6:30 a.m. when Sgt. Wetzel made contact with Gordon, NJ.com reported.
He had no idea other troopers had already encountered the suspect multiple times that same day, according to investigators.
During the traffic stop, Gordon’s vehicle stopped running and wouldn’t restart, NJ.com reported.
Since it was parked in the median, Sgt. Wetzel called a tow truck and invited Gordon to sit in his patrol car to wait.
Gordon agreed and got into the back of the cruiser.
He was not handcuffed at the time, WNBC reported.
Approximately 20 minutes later, Sgt. Wetzel got out of the car to give Gordon a facemask, according to the attorney general’s office.
That’s when Gordon allegedly got out of the vehicle and began scuffling with the sergeant, NJ.com reported.
During the 90-second fight that ensued, Gordon tried to get behind the wheel of the patrol car and was pepper-sprayed by Sgt. Wetzel, Platkin said.
Gordon managed to break away and jumped into the driver’s seat of the cruiser, at which point the sergeant again grabbed him and pulled him back out, the Daily Voice reported.
The suspect then jumped onto Sgt. Wetzel’s back and tried to grab his duty pistol with both hands, according to prosecutors.
The sergeant ultimately fired six rounds at his attacker, hitting him twice, the Daily Voice reported.
Sgt. Wetzel immediately called for emergency medical assistance before additional troopers arrived at the scene.
Paramedics rendered aid, but Gordon succumbed to his wounds at the scene, the Daily Voice reported.
“He was in my car,” Sgt. Wetzel was heard telling another trooper in a video recording, according to NJ.com. “When I tried giving him a mask, he got out of the car. We got in a fight on the side of the road. He tried running into my car. I got him out. Sprayed him. We got in a fight again. He ran away from me, tried to hop into my trooper car (and) grab my gun. We were fighting with my gun, and I shot him. He’s already cuffed. He’s cuffed and down.”
Gordon’s family has since filed a federal civil rights lawsuit, claiming that the shooting was “racially biased,” NJ.com reported.
William Wagstaff, the attorney representing Gordon’s family, said his clients “are hurt…but not necessarily surprised” by the grand jury’s refusal to indict Sgt. Wetzel.
Wagstaff has accused the sergeant of lying about Gordon’s alleged attempts to gain control of his duty firearm, NJ.com reported.
“The way the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office handled the careful curation and release of videos and information when [Gordon] was first killed reflected what I believe was a predetermination that the State of New Jersey wanted Sgt. Wetzel exonerated,” Wagstaff declared on Tuesday, according to the Poughkeepsie Journal. “The family has never felt the presentation of the case to the Grand Jury would be on the level.”
“Today’s vote of no true bill is another reminder that police accountability still escapes black people in New Jersey,” the attorney added.