A white New Jersey state trooper who shot and killed an unarmed Black man in 2020 will face no criminal charges.
The office of acting New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin announced on Tuesday that a grand jury had voted against charges for New Jersey State Police Sergeant Randy Wetzel, who fatally shot 28-year-old Maurice Gordon during a May 23, 2020, encounter on the Garden State Parkway. Gordon died two days before George Floyd, whose murder by police in Minneapolis sparked extensive protests against police brutality and racial injustice across the country.
Platkin’s office said that Gordon, of Poughkeepsie, New York, was stopped about 6:28 a.m. by Wetzel after allegedly driving over 100 mph near Exit 50 of the highway in Bass River, New Jersey. Gordon was not arrested. However, when his car would not restart following the speeding stop, a tow truck was called and he was invited to sit in Wetzel’s vehicle because his car was parked on a “dangerous portion of the highway.”
When Wetzel left his vehicle’s driver seat to give Gordon a face mask, Gordon attempted to leave his seat and get in the driver’s seat, leading to a physical confrontation that ended with the trooper firing six shots to Gordon’s torso. Wetzel fired pepper spray at Gordon prior to the gunshots. He also said that Gordon attempted to wrestle control of his gun just before the shots were fired, although Gordon’s family has disputed the assertion.
The family has also said that Gordon was suffering from “psychiatric difficulties” at the time of his death, while also noting that he had no criminal record. On the morning that he met Wetzel, he had encountered police three other times—once for speeding and twice after running out of gas. He told the first trooper who stopped him for speeding that he was attempting to reach the “end of the video game.”
A friend from Gordon’s hometown called 911 on the day before the shooting to express concern and alert local authorities of his “panicked state.” However, his location was unknown at the time. An investigation later revealed that he had driven from upstate New York into Connecticut before heading to New Jersey.
The probe was launched in accordance with a 2019 law that requires the state attorney general’s office to investigate deaths that happen during encounters with police. The incident came to national attention in June 2020 after Platkin’s office released multiple videos of Gordon’s death.
Platkin’s office said on Tuesday that “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.”
Wetzel could still be held liable in a federal civil suit filed by Gordon’s relatives, who allege that the killing was “racially-biased,” according to NJ.Com. Attorney William Wagstaff told the outlet that the family was “disappointed” and “hurt” by the decision to not pursue criminal charges and “are taking the time to heal and process this.”
“The family definitely never felt (the case) would be presented to a grand jury in a fair and impartial way,” Wagstaff said.
Newsweek reached out to Platkin’s office for comment.
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