Three teens will be charged with trying to kill Trenton officers during chase that injured six cops

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TRENTON, NJ – Three Trenton teens will be charged with attempted murder, and related firearms charges, for shooting at police officers during a vehicle chase, that that went through two towns in the early morning hours of July 29th, the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office announced.

According to the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office, officers initially spotted the stolen red Ford Focus in the area of Parkside and Olden avenues around 2 a.m..

Officers then initiated a pursuit while the stolen car drove along Olden Avenue toward Ewing.

At one point during the pursuit, an individual in the stolen car fired several shots at the officers, striking a police vehicle. The officers weren’t struck by any bullets and didn’t return gunfire.

The pursuit eventually came to an end nearly 2 miles away at the intersection of Olden and North Clinton avenues, where the stolen car driver crashed into a responding Trenton police SUV and a minivan, prosecutors said.

Six Trenton officers were hurt and three of them were hospitalized, including Officer Kevin Starkey who is in critical condition with head injuries. Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora visited him at the hospital.

Gusciora said:

“The families were there and they were very much concerned,” 

Zaire Butler, 19, and Nazere Crews, 18, were both hospitalized and will be charged with attempted murder and other related offenses, according to investigators. A 16-year-old suspect also faces charges.

The incident all started with a tip to Trenton police about a social media post that showed a group of individuals with guns driving around Trenton’s West Ward looking for people to shoot.

Trenton Police Director Sheilah Coley and Mayor Reed Gusciora said in an afternoon press event:

“At that hour, what else could they have been doing? Other than to create mischief and harm to the residents of the city,”  

They continued:

“There is no doubt, that without the quick actions of my officers, there would have been three weapons on the street,” 

The director and the mayor both said the officers’ heroic actions saved lives.

Gusciora said:

“The weapons seized today are three less than can be used against our residents,” 

He went on to say:

“In the end, they saved lives by stopping indiscriminate shooting coming from the car (being chased).”

The mayor summed it up with:

”And I cannot thank (the officers) enough for their service,” 

The prosecutor’s office gave this account of the incident:

Following the social media post, Trenton police alerted their officers about it at about 2:25 a.m. A short time later, patrol officers Michael Gettler and Jeffery Pownall spotted a red 2003 Ford Focus and found it had been reported stolen.

The officers tried to pull it over on Parkside Avenue, but it fled and eventually into Ewing along North Olden Avenue, where, near the Home Depot, four shots were fired at the Gettler and Pownall’s patrol vehicle. One shot hit the vehicle’s light bar and bounced off the roof.

The chase went back into the city and into East Trenton. At the intersection of North Olden and North Clinton avenues, the Ford Focus crashed into a Trenton patrol vehicle containing officers Starkey and Brian Walker, who were headed to help.

The Ford than spun into a minivan that was traveling in the opposite direction.

Then, city officers Orlando Santiago and Andy Gomez approached the Ford and Santiago slipped on leaking fluids from the crash and hurt his head and cut his elbow, and Gomez suffered cuts to a hand from broken glass.

Those four officers, plus Gettler and Pownall, were taken to a city hospital for treatment.

In addition to Starkey, Walker, who also struck his head in the crash, and Santiago remained in the hospital. Gettler and Pownell were evaluated and released.

In referencing the incident, Coley said city officers have recovered 104 firearms so far this year.

She said:

“That’s a lot of guns, that just gives you an idea of the firepower that is on the streets at any given time.”

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This comes shortly after New Jersey’s Attorney General tried to publicly shame police officers in early July. 

Trenton, NJ – New Jersey’s Attorney General Gubir Grewal has been trying to bully police unions in New Jersey to agree to releasing the names of police officers that have received discipline.

On June 15th Grewal issued Directive 2020-5 requiring every law enforcement agency in New Jersey to annually publish the names of sworn officer who have been suspended for more than five days or who have been demoted or terminated, along with a description of circumstances that led to the discipline.

The AG’s directive is just another example of a political knee-jerk to placate a public cry for police reform across the country.

Since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25th there have been demonstrations, protests and riots all throughout the United States with many people demanding police reform.

Floyd died while Minneapolis Police were attempting to arrest him on charges related to buying cigarettes with an alleged counterfeit $20 bill.

Video of the encounter showed former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyds neck for almost 9 minutes. Chauvin and the other three officers were fired and subsequently charged in Floyds death. Despite the quick disciplinary action taken by officials and the criminal charges, this incident ignited outrage in Minneapolis and beyond.

Many cities across the country have begun passing local orders relating to police reform. Most of these revolve around use of force.

In Seattle, the council unanimously passed a resolution banning police from using tear gas, flash bangs and rubber bullets during civil disturbances. In Washington DC, they banned chokeholds (which the department had done prior the legislation), changed process for release of body camera and mandates officers undergo racism training.

These are just two examples of reforms that local politicians are successfully pushing through. This is being done without having a police representative involved in the process.

New Jersey AG Grewal’s directive is no different. While no police officer is looking to protect a bad apple it also doesn’t mean that every officer who has received discipline should be publicly shamed. Especially during a time when emotions are high and the microscope is focused on the police.

On July 3rd Grewal tweeted about being police unions filing 5 separate lawsuits against him relating to his new directive.

The Trentonian reported on June 26th that NJSP Unions were in fact suing AG Grewal;

The State Troopers Fraternal Association of New Jersey is suing Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, alleging the AG’s directive to expose bad apple cops “will cause immediate and irreparable harm to these impacted Troopers.

Represented by attorneys Robert R. Cannan and James M. Mets, the police union alleges its membership would face immediate harm and says public safety would be negatively impacted if the New Jersey State Police published the names of current and former troopers who have committed egregious offenses over the last 20 years.

“There exists a very real concern that the safety of these current or former Troopers and their families would be placed at risk by the action of the Attorney General or the NJSP Superintendent,” the lawsuit alleges.

“In addition to the fear that Troopers will be attacked, there are also many other concerns that must be weighed. There are concerns that the identities of witnesses and victims will be easily discovered.”

New Jersey State Police Unions released an “Open Letter to All New Jersey Residents” and they are very clear on their commitment to the safety of the citizens of NJ as well as their membership:

“We wish to take this opportunity to speak directly to the citizens, community leaders, legislators, and media outlets of New Jersey. Our country has recently been shaken to its core by the tragic death of George Floyd.

Mr. Floyd’s murder was indefensible, unjustified, and we unequivocally condemn it. For decades our three New Jersey State Police Associations have been at the forefront of negotiating and instituting common sense police reform policies to ensure our members are fulfilling their duties in a fair and impartial manner so that incidents like Mr. Floyd’s murder do not occur in our state.

We have never been, and never will be, in the business of protecting “bad apples” or covering for “rogue cops.” New Jersey State Troopers take immense pride in upholding our reputation as the nation’s premier law enforcement agency.

Our members make this known every single day through thousands of professional interactions. In recent years, the New Jersey State Police and our Associations have received immense public support for embracing common sense reform and excelling under the most stringent review standards. “

“The retrospective attachment of Troopers’ names and republishing old annual reports serves absolutely no legitimate purpose other than to harass, embarrass, and rehash past incidents during a time of severe anti-law enforcement sentiment.

It can’t possibly be a deterrent because the violations have already occurred and the suspensions have already been served. It makes no sense to unmask and re-punish Troopers for administrative violations committed years ago. Furthermore, a significant portion of names would include former Troopers who have been granted honorable retirements and are no longer involved in law enforcement.

It should be noted, the State of New Jersey completely removes the names of criminal offenders from the Department of Corrections Offender Search web page one year after the completion of their term.

Oddly enough, if the Attorney General’s order stands, a Trooper with an administrative rule violation many years ago would have their name posted online in perpetuity while an armed robbery ex-convict has their name permanently removed.”

In law enforcement we use the term “reasonable” almost daily. The Attorney Generals directive as well as the reforms we are seeing passed nationwide are anything but reasonable.

It’s not the only lawsuit this police-bashing AG is facing.

In May, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA) in conjunction with the New Jersey State Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police (NJFOP) filed a lawsuit against the State of New Jersey for a violation of the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act (LEOSA).

That’s a lot of acronyms in one sentence, but stay with me.

The lawsuit specifically names Gurbir Grewal, NJ State Attorney General, and Patrick Callahan, Superintendent of NJ State Police.

If you’re not familiar with LEOSA, it’s an act passed by Congress in 2004 that said qualified active and retired law enforcement officers were allowed under federal law to carry concealed authorized firearms throughout the United States.

The act was expanded twice in 2010 and 2013, indicating continued support for the act in Congress.

The State of New Jersey, FLEOA and NJFOP state, has “chosen to consistently neglect this important public safety federal law.”

The organizations claim:

“New Jersey has enacted state laws that deny qualified law enforcement officers their concealed carry rights under LEOSA.”

Specifically, they say:

“In October 2018, the Office of the Attorney General of the State of New Jersey issued a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document concerning the State’s application of the LEOSA with respect to qualified active retired officers which rejects the exemption for these officers, stating the purpose of the law is ‘to bar prosecution for retired LEOs who carry concealed firearms in interstate commerce.’ This is completely incorrect…According to S Rept. 111-233, the purpose of the LEOSA is to recognize that:

“‘law enforcement officers occupy a unique place in American society and should be entrusted with special privileges related to firearms. The bill the Committee reports in the 111th Congress continues this recognition by making improvements to existing law necessary to ensure that qualified retired officers are able to gain the privileges and protections Congress originally intended in the Law Eforcement Officers Safety Act of 2003.’

“Further, the State Attorney General’s FAQ states that qualified retired law enforcement officers are prohibited from carrying hollow point bullets, which ignores the Federal statute which provides a very explicit exemption for ammunition that is ‘not expressly prohibited by Federal law or subjected to the provisions of the National Firearms Act.'”

The organizations also indicated that they have attempted to resolve the issue with the Governor, the State Attorney General, and the State legislature, to no avail.

In a letter to US Attorney general William Barr, the National Fraternal Order of Police President Pat Yoes said:

“The State of New Jersey should not be able to change existing law by misinterpreting the statute and ignoring its legislative history of the intention of Congress.”

Further, Yoes stated:

“Retired officers in New Jersey may be in legal jeopardy to prosecution by the State for adhering to the Federal law, which is very clear on the exemption…For this reason, the State FOP has taken a lead role and filed a complaint with the US District Court for the District of New Jersey.”

In a press release regarding the lawsuit, New Jersey FOP President Bob Fox said:

“When an officer takes their oath to protect and serve their community, it does not end when the badge comes off and an officer retires.

The Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act (LEOSA) acknowledges this fact and provides qualified, former law enforcement with the opportunity to continue serving the public after their retirement if they feel compelled.

When Congress passed LEOSA with wide bipartisan support, they accepted that there are no better trained individuals to respond to a threat than qualified retired law enforcement officers.”

Additionally in the release, FLEOA President Larry Cosme said:

“In the state of New Jersey, we see that criminals at times have easier access to firearms than qualified retired law enforcement officers.

The intent of LEOSA was to bring a force multiplier of qualified retired law enforcement officers onto the streets of America, so criminals would think twice before acting.

“By adding their own regulatory scheme that violates the clear language of LEOSA and making it almost impossible in some cases for an officer to carry their authorized firearm, the State of New Jersey continues to make the public less safe for its residents, who are already impacted by the violent crime statistics in some of its major cities.

“Under LEOSA, a clear set of regulations is prescribed for qualified law enforcement offices to follow. Within those regulations, the agencies or departments that an officer served with make the determination if an officer is qualified or not.

New Jersey regulations try to preempt that process and make arbitrary decisions regarding who is and is not qualified, including the ability to deny an otherwise qualified officer, a clear breach of federal law.

“FLEOA has worked closely with other states who have a fair and federally compliant interpretation of LEOSA. We have attempted to work with New Jersey state officials but have been thwarted.

Now we are left with the only recourse that will protect our members and their rights by filing suit against the state. Congress has protected their right not once, not twice, but three times yet New Jersey ignores them.

This is not a matter of states’ rights or gun rights, it is a matter of public safety and New Jersey politicians thwarting federal law and endangering the public instead of supporting the safety to the officers who have trained, committed, and devoted their lives to protecting the public.”

It’s fitting that as National Police Week kicks off, organizations like FLEOA and the FOP are advocating for active and retired law enforcement officers, ensuring that they are able to keep themselves and others safe.

Law Enforcement Today will be monitoring the lawsuit and will bring you updates as available.

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