Newark Police Officer Is Charged in Shooting Death of Fleeing Driver

A grand jury indicted a Newark police officer on Tuesday on charges that he repeatedly shot at a fleeing vehicle during a chase, killing the driver and wounding a passenger.

According to the Essex County prosecutor, the 26-year-old officer fired at the fleeing vehicle at three separate locations during the Jan. 28 pursuit, after the driver, Gregory C. Griffin, 46, sped off from a traffic stop.

The indictment comes three months after both the Essex County prosecutor and the Newark public safety director said they had “serious concerns” about the conduct of the officer, Jovanny Crespo, during the chase and suspended him without pay.

The action taken by the grand jury marks a rare indictment of a police officer amid a national debate over policing and the use of lethal force, particularly against African-American men.

In Ferguson, Mo., a grand jury declined to indict an officer who shot Michael Brown. In Minnesota, a jury acquitted an officer accused of shooting Philando Castile. In Louisiana, the Justice Department declined to bring charges in the shooting of Alton B. Sterling.

Mr. Griffin was African-American.

Since 2005, 36 non-federal law enforcement officers have been convicted of a crime resulting from an on-duty shooting (16 by guilty plea, 20 by jury trial and none convicted by a bench trial), according to Philip M. Stinson, an associate professor of criminal justice at Bowling Green State University who tracks police shootings. About 900 to 1,000 people are fatally shot by police officers in the United States every year, Mr. Stinson said, citing a database created by the Washington Post.

A release sent out late Tuesday by the county prosecutor said this is the first fatal police-involved shooting to result in an indictment in Essex County “in recent memory.”

“It is the state’s position that this officer’s conduct that night was criminal,” said Theodore Stephens, the acting Essex County Prosecutor, during a news conference announcing the indictment on Tuesday night. “He showed a reckless disregard for human life by shooting into a moving vehicle, a vehicle which had heavily tinted windows.”

Mr. Crespo was charged on Tuesday with six counts, including aggravated manslaughter, and could face life in prison if convicted on all counts, according to the county prosecutor.

During a roughly mile-long chase through the streets of Newark, Mr. Crespo shot repeatedly at Mr. Griffin’s vehicle, eventually killing Mr. Griffin and critically injuring the passenger, Andrew Dixon, 35.

The pursuit began, according to authorities, at 11:15 p.m. on a Monday night after an unidentified female officer spotted a handgun in Mr. Griffin’s car. After an attempted traffic stop, Mr. Griffin fled.

The chase was captured on Mr. Crespo’s body camera, which the prosecutor’s office released to the public on Tuesday night. In the first altercation with Mr. Griffin’s car, Mr. Crespo exits his police car and sprints around to the driver’s side to try to intercept Mr. Griffin, and then fires three rounds as the car pulls away.

“I shot at it, bro," Mr. Crespo tells his driver as he gets back into the car.

After a 60-second chase, Mr. Crespo’s car catches Mr. Griffin at an intersection. Mr. Crespo immediately jumps out of the car and fires three more rounds as Mr. Griffin speeds off again.

“I think I shot him,” Mr. Crespo tells his fellow officer. “I seen the gun, he pointed the gun at me. Bro, he pointed the gun right at me.”

A mile from where the chase first began, Mr. Griffin’s car came to a stop. Mr. Crespo ran toward the vehicle as the passenger-side door cracked open. He fired two more shots and opened the door, pulling Mr. Dixon from the vehicle and yelling “get out of the car” and “don’t reach for nothing.” Mr. Griffin can be seen slumped in the driver’s seat. He died the following day.

Police have said that a handgun with hollow-point bullets was found inside the car; Mr. Dixon was charged with possession of an illegal gun.

The indictment comes as the Newark Police Department is working toward reform after a federal investigation uncovered a troubling pattern of unconstitutional practices, including improper searches and stops, and excessive use of force. The department remains under a federal consent decree.

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