New law moves investigations of police-involved deaths to AG’s Office

Passaic cops blocked traffic around Myrtle Avenue and Harrison Street as investigators probed the scene where a 24-year-old man armed with a handgun died Thursday night after being shot by local police who responded to reports of a street fight, according to New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal. It’s the first case the state will investigate under a new law designed to boost public confidence that inquiries like these are fair and impartial. Residents welcomed the oversight.

“It will be better,” said Passaic resident Terence Mitchell. “State’s involved, you get more help.”

“Sometimes a clearer mind, or a clearer eye, outside of the town might be good,” said Passaic resident Kyle Monroe.

“This is a balanced law that makes sure that there is transparency and equity,” said Assemblywoman Britnee Timberlake.

The law’s sponsors pointed to cases like Jameek Lowery, who died earlier in January after interacting with Paterson police, igniting a firestorm of public protest.

“I extend my condolences to Jameek Lowery and his children who no longer have a father. To his children, to his father, that his family knows that we will champion this and do what’s right and make sure justice is served,” said Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly.

The new law requires an independent investigation if someone dies in police custody or during an interaction with law enforcement, instead of allowing local prosecutors to investigate local cops. Grewal originally opposed the measure, worried it could undermine public trust in local law enforcement.

“This law was not anti-prosecutor. This law was not anti-law enforcement. This law was an effort to fortify the community and strengthen the relationships the community has with law enforcement,” said Timberlake.

“It is a major step forward in the struggle for criminal justice reform and accountability,” said Larry Hamm, chair of the People’s Organization for Progress.

After Gov. Phil Murphy signed the bill into law Wednesday, the attorney general stated, “Everyone must have complete confidence that deaths in law enforcement custody will be investigated thoroughly, fairly and entirely free of bias. While I believe that the current system effectively achieves those ends, the Legislature and the governor have now acted to adopt a different approach. I will do everything in my power to ensure that the new law is implemented in a manner that bolsters public confidence.”

“I have recently also had conversations with the attorney general. He’s a man of integrity and I have full faith and confidence that he will make sure that it’s enacted to the benefit, of not only the community, but also to make sure law enforcement is treated fairly,” said Jiles Ship, president of the northern New Jersey chapter of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.

The Attorney General’s Office said it will have no further comment on this case while the investigation is underway.

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