Newark police delayed access to reports, videos in cop’s fatal shooting of driver, federal monitor says

Updated Oct 25, 2019

The federal monitor overseeing the Newark Police Department was repeatedly denied reports and video of the police chase that ended when an officer fatally shot a driver in January.

The media received body camera footage of Officer Jovanny Crespo shooting at the vehicle before the city or police department gave it to Peter Harvey, a former New Jersey attorney general who was appointed in 2016 to oversee sweeping reforms at the department.

Harvey outlined the denials in his ninth quarterly report that is part of Newark’s consent decree, an agreement the city entered into after a U.S. Department of Justice review found a pattern of unconstitutional practices within the police department. Each report examines progress the police division has made in reforms.

“In response to the Monitor’s initial request, the City asserted that the requested information could not be released because the Officer-Involved Shooting was ‘currently under investigation by the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office,’” Harvey’s report states.

Newark’s public safety department disagrees with Harvey.

Crespo faces charges of aggravated manslaughter and aggravated assault in the death of Gregory Griffin, 46, and wounding Andrew Dixon, 35. Body camera footage showed Crespo jumping into and out of his police vehicle while shooting at their fleeing car on Jan. 28.

Patrick Toscano, Crespo’s attorney, asked a Superior Court judge last month to subpoena Harvey, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and the Essex County Prosecutor’s office for any possible communications between the three about his client.

“No one knows what they may reveal,” Toscano told reporters in September, referring to the communications. “No one knows what may be said or mentioned.”

Toscano did not respond to requests for comment on Harvey’s report. Superior Court Judge Ronald Wigler has issued a gag order in the case.

Newark police initially notified Harvey and the federal Department of Justice of the shooting the day after it occurred, according to the monitor’s report.

“First let me say Mr. Harvey and the federal Department of Justice were notified of the incident immediately but the county prosecutor and state attorney general handle all police shootings,” said Newark Public Safety Director Anthony F. Ambrose. “We weren’t being evasive. We followed the law, which supersedes the monitor’s request. We are not at liberty to release evidence to him that is being handled by another agency. We did our part and notified him.”

Harvey said an Essex County assistant prosecutor told him that the prosecutor’s office would not release records until its investigation into the shooting had “reached the point of substantial completion.”

Harvey said in his report that the police division’s monitoring team is required to have timely access to city and police documents in order to make sure it’s in compliance with the consent decree.

“The Monitor sought to study the videos and reports concerning the shooting to determine whether, or not, recommendations were in order regarding NPD’s newly implemented, revised Use of Force Policies and/or training,” Harvey’s report states.

The Essex County Prosecutor’s Office released video of the shooting to the media hours after Crespo was indicted.

When asked if the monitor’s request influenced the investigation into Crespo, the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office only said through a spokeswoman that a hearing about the subpoenas will be held next month.

“There is a specific gag order on this case that we are respecting," Essex County Prosecutor’s Office spokeswoman Katherine Carter said. "The issues being raised will be addressed on the record, in open court, on Nov. 4. We look forward to that date.”

Harvey said in his report that he eventually received the records he requested from the police, but did not specify a date. The monitoring team will report on the data it received in a later quarterly update.

Harvey did not respond to a request for comment.

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