A state grand jury has voted not to file any criminal charges at the conclusion of its deliberations regarding the death of Jamahl Smith, 46, of Newark, N.J., who was fatally shot in June 2019 by an officer of the Orange Police Department. As required by statute, all fatal police encounters must be presented to a grand jury. According to available evidence, including civilian and police witnesses, Mr. Smith was shot after officers responded to multiple 911 calls reporting a stabbing and a man armed with a knife.
The fatal police encounter was investigated by the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA) and presented to 16 to 23 New Jersey residents called to serve on the grand jury in accordance with Directive 2019-4, the “Independent Prosecutor Directive” issued by the Attorney General in 2019. The investigation included interviews of witnesses; collection of forensic evidence; and autopsy results from the medical examiner. After hearing testimony and evidence from the investigation, the grand jury concluded its deliberations yesterday, July 27, and voted “no bill,” meaning a majority of grand jurors found the actions of the officer who shot Smith were justified and no charges should be filed against him.
The Administrative Office of the Courts recently authorized the resumption of in-person grand juries, which had been suspended during the COVID emergency. Now that in-person grand jury presentations are permitted, OPIA will present the many completed investigations of fatal police encounters that were pending due to the pandemic. This month, OPIA issued standard operating procedures (“SOPs”) to ensure that these grand jury presentations are conducted in a neutral, objective manner, and with appropriate transparency regarding the process, consistent with the Independent Prosecutor Directive.
The shooting occurred on June 13, 2019 at approximately 3:07 p.m. on the third floor of the Oakwood Towers, 400 Oakwood Avenue in Orange. Police responded to multiple 911 calls reporting a stabbing and a male subject armed with a knife.
When officers arrived, they encountered Mr. Smith, who approached them with a knife. Officers ordered him to drop the knife numerous times, but Smith disregarded those instructions and continued to advance toward the officers. Officer Willie Jones of the Orange Police Department discharged his service weapon three times, striking Mr. Smith. Officers then proceeded to render aid to Mr. Smith and a 51-year-old female suffering from stab wounds who was located nearby. Smith was transported to University Hospital in Newark, where he was pronounced dead. An autopsy revealed that Smith died as a result of gunshot wounds to his abdomen, forearm, and thigh.
A 2019 law, P.L. 2019, c. 1, requires the Attorney General’s Office to conduct investigations of a person’s death that occurs during an encounter with a law enforcement officer acting in the officer’s official capacity or while the decedent is in custody. It requires that all such investigations be presented to a grand jury to determine if the evidence supports the return of an indictment against the officer or officers involved.
After considering the facts, evidence, and testimony from the OPIA investigation, the state grand jury found the actions of the officer were justified. 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.
A conflicts check was conducted pursuant to the Independent Prosecutor Directive and no actual or potential conflict of interest was found involving any individual assigned to the investigation. Prior to presentation to the grand jury, the investigation was reviewed by OPIA Executive Director
Thomas Eicher in accordance with the policies and procedures established for these presentations in the SOPs.
At the conclusion of these investigations, pursuant to the Independent Prosecutor Directive and SOPs, OPIA determines whether any principal should be referred to the appropriate law enforcement agency for administrative review in accordance with the AG’s Internal Affairs Policy & Procedures. OPIA monitors any resulting review and takes such actions as are necessary to ensure that the review is completed in a timely fashion, and that appropriate actions are taken based on the results of the review.