TO: ALL NEWS MEDIA
FROM: PROSECUTOR GURBIR S. GREWAL
DATE: FEBRUARY 7, 2017
STATEMENT OF BERGEN COUNTY PROSECUTOR GURBIR S. GREWAL ON THE FATAL POLICE SHOOTING OF MIGUEL REYES
The Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office ("BCPO" or the "Office") has completed its investigation of the October 8, 2014 fatal police shooting of Miguel Reyes by a Paramus Police Department ("PPD") Officer ("Officer 1") and has concluded that Officer 1’s use of deadly force against Mr. Reyes was legally justified. The BCPO further determined that it was not necessary to present this matter to the Grand Jury because there were no material facts in dispute regarding the fatal shooting of Mr. Reyes. The entire investigation was conducted in accordance with the July 28, 2015 Attorney General Supplemental Law Enforcement Directive Regarding Uniform Statewide Procedures and Best Practices for Conducting Police Use of Force Investigations ("Attorney General’s Directive" or "Directive"). Pursuant to the Directive, the Attorney General’s Office independently reviewed and concurred with the BCPO’s investigative findings, the BCPO’s determination not to present this matter to the Grand Jury as there were no material facts in dispute, and the BCPO’s conclusion that the use of deadly force by Officer 1 was legally justified.
Overview of BCPO Investigation
The BCPO Major Crimes Unit investigated the fatal shooting of Mr. Reyes. The investigation included, among other things: witness interviews; review of crime scene reports; the collection and review of forensic evidence collected at the scene; review of ballistics reports; review of all pertinent medical records, including the autopsy report rendered by the Bergen County Medical Examiner’s Office; and review of all PPD and law enforcement reports related to the October 8, 2014 incident. The witness interviews included, among others, an interview of Officer 1 and other officers who responded to the shooting.
In sum and substance, the BCPO’s investigation revealed the following undisputed material facts:
1. On Monday, October 6, 2014, Miguel Reyes and co-conspirator Nico Vega traveled from the Bronx, New York to Paramus, New Jersey to identify a potential target of a commercial burglary. During the trip, they identified the T-Mobile store located at 255 Route 4 West in Paramus as their intended target. The T-Mobile Store was located in a strip mall that consisted of the following three stores: a Jennifer Convertibles store on the western end of the strip mall; a vacant store in the middle of the strip mall; and a T-Mobile store on the eastern end of the strip mall. There was a Sleepy’s store immediately to the east of the strip mall, with an alley separating it from the strip mall where the T-Mobile was located.
2. During their visit, Reyes and Vega went inside the Jennifer Convertibles store that day to determine the layout of the store. Their plan was to return at a later time and break into Jennifer Convertibles in order to access the vacant store and then ultimately the T-Mobile store.
3. On Tuesday, October 7, 2014, Reyes and Vega solicited the assistance of coconspirators Josue and Hector Felix to participate in the planned burglary.
4. Sometime after 2:30 a.m. on Wednesday, October 8, 2014, Vega drove the group of four men in a silver Kia to the vicinity of the T-Mobile store. Every nameplate or manufacturer insignia on the Kia was neatly covered with black tape to prevent identification of the car. All four men wore dark clothing and were equipped with gloves, burglary tools, and a sledgehammer to facilitate the commission of the burglary.
5. After arriving in the vicinity of the T-Mobile store, Vega parked the Kia behind the Sleepy’s store, with the car facing west. While Vega remained with the Kia, Reyes and the Felixes then exited with the sledgehammer. The three gained access to Jennifer Convertibles through a rear door, but were having difficulty gaining access to the vacant store and ultimately to the T-Mobile store. They then solicited Vega’s assistance and the four men were able to create a hole in the wall between the Jennifer Convertibles and the vacant store. In the process, however, they activated the alarm at the Jennifer Convertibles store. After the audible alarm sounded, the four men retreated to the parked Kia.
6. At approximately 4:11 a.m., PPD Officers 1 and 2, who were on patrol in separate marked vehicles, were dispatched to the alarm call at Jennifer Convertibles. Given the nature of the call, the officers did not use lights and sirens as they responded. While both cars were equipped with audio/video recording systems, those systems would have only been activated if the car’s lights and sirens were activated.
7. In the meantime, the audio alarm stopped and Reyes, Vega and the Felixes returned towards the Jennifer Convertibles. They saw the arriving PPD cars and began retreating towards the parked Kia.
8. Upon their arrival at the scene, at approximately 4:19 a.m., Officers 1 and 2 parked in front of Jennifer Convertibles towards the western end of the strip mall. They subsequently discovered that the rear door of Jennifer Convertibles had been forced open. Upon further investigation inside the store, they discovered a hole in the east wall between Jennifer Convertibles and the adjoining vacant business. The officers notified headquarters of their findings and exited the business. Additional police officers were then dispatched to the area.
9. Officer 1 then entered his/her police car and drove into the alley between the T- Mobile strip mall and the Sleepy’s store to the east. As s/he did, s/he observed three individuals running behind the Sleepy’s store and entering the parked Kia. Officer 1 then continued in his/her car to the rear of Sleepy’s and positioned his/her car in close proximity to the front bumper of the Kia in an attempt to prevent its departure from the scene.
10. Officer 1, who was in uniform, then exited his/her marked police car, drew his/her firearm and verbally commanded the suspects multiple times to stop. Reyes, who was now in the driver’s seat of the Kia, disregarded Officer 1’s commands. Instead, Reyes backed up the Kia and then deliberately accelerated forward toward Officer 1, who was standing next to the driver’s side of the police car.
11. As Reyes accelerated towards Officer 1, Officer 1 discharged his/her firearm at the oncoming vehicle in the direction of the driver. Reyes continued forward and struck Officer 1, knocking him/her onto the hood of the Kia, and striking Officer 1’s vehicle on the driver’s side.
12. While on the hood of the Kia, Officer 1 fired his/her weapon several more times in the direction of the driver of the Kia. At that point, Reyes abruptly stopped the vehicle and Officer 1 was thrown to the ground in front of the Kia. Reyes then accelerated and drove over Officer 1.
13. Reyes then turned left into the alley between the Sleepy’s and the strip mall. At that point, Reyes lost control of the Kia and struck the outside of the Sleepy’s store (specifically, the western side of the store), causing structural damage and breaking a window. He then backed up the Kia. By that time, Officer 1 had extricated him/herself from the undercarriage of the car and got back to his/her feet. As Officer 1 approached the Kia after it crashed into the Sleepy’s, s/he stated both the driver and the left passenger turned toward him/her. Officer 1 then fired a single round into the driver’s side window; that was the thirteenth round fired by Officer 1, who then reloaded his/her weapon.
14. Reyes proceeded onto Route 4 West and then struck the concrete barrier separating Route 4 West and East, thereby disabling the Kia. After the crash, Reyes fled from the vehicle and ran across the eastbound lanes of Route 4. Officers 1 and 2 apprehended the three suspects inside the Kia – Vega and the Felixes – with the assistance of Officer 3, an offduty officer of the New York City Police Department, who happened upon the scene.
15. Officers 4 and 5, who were both members of the River Edge Police Department, later located Reyes a short distance from the crash into the Route 4 center median. Officers 4 and 5 observed multiple gunshot wounds to Reyes and administered first aid. Reyes was transported to Hackensack University Medical Center ("HUMC") in Hackensack, New Jersey, by ambulance and pronounced dead at approximately 5:45 a.m.
16. Josue Felix, who was located in the rear seat of the Kia, sustained a single gunshot wound to his left index finger. He was transported to Hackensack University Medical Center for treatment.
17. In the vicinity of the Sleepy’s, detectives located a total of thirteen metal shell casings on the asphalt pavement. One single bullet/projectile was recovered on the west side of building. A ballistics comparison performed by the Bergen County Sheriff’s Department determined that all thirteen shell casings had been discharged from the firearm of Officer 1. In addition, a black vehicle inner wheel well and a black flash light (which belonged to Officer 1) were located on the pavement at the rear of the building. Also, on the west side of the Sleepy’s store, a black ammunition magazine for a handgun (which belonged to Officer 1) was found on the pavement. This was in close proximity to where the structural damage and broken window were located.
18. On October 8, 2014, a postmortem examination and autopsy on the body of Miguel A. Reyes, Jr., was conducted at the Bergen County Medical Examiner’s Office ("BCME"). During postmortem radiographs, two projectiles were identified. The following gunshot wounds were identified: a gunshot wound of the right abdomen; a gunshot wound of the right upper extremity (above the elbow area); and a gunshot wound to the right shoulder. The wound path for the gunshot to the right abdomen was from front to back, right to left, and downward. The wound path for the gunshot to the right upper extremity was from front to back, right to left, and upward. And the wound path for the gunshot to the right shoulder was from back to front, right to left, and downward.
19. The BCME concluded that the cause of death was multiple gunshot wounds and the manner of death was homicide. The investigation confirmed that the gunshot wounds sustained by Mr. Reyes were from Officer 1’s duty weapon.
20. On December 9, 2014, detectives from the BCPO’s Fatal Accident Unit executed a search warrant on the above-described Kia.
21. Pursuant to a search warrant, officers recovered the following items from the Kia: a flashlight, a knit cap, a black head cover, red and white gloves, a black hat, a sledge hammer, a pry bar, and a grinder tool with blades used to cut metal.
22. Additionally, examination of the Kia revealed that it had sustained heavy front end damage, primarily to the driver’s side, consistent with crashing into a fixed object. There was a large, single irregular scratch to the hood of the vehicle. Several bullet holes were visible in the vehicle. Six to the front windshield, with a single deflection strike to the top of the windshield. There were two strikes to the front hood of the vehicle and one single hole in the driver’s side window. Three projectiles were subsequently recovered from within the vehicle. The first was recovered from the lower left portion of the hood near the passenger side of the windshield. The second projectile was recovered from the inside of the front passenger door. The third projectile was recovered from the inside the dashboard, behind the steering wheel and speedometer. While the results of the ballistics comparison related to these projectiles recovered from inside the vehicle were inconclusive, the investigation showed that Officer 1 was the only officer on the scene who fired his/her duty weapon.
23. Pursuant to the search warrant, detectives also removed the vehicle’s Airbag Control Module ("ACM") and examined it for data related to the incident on October 8, 2014. Notably, the ACM records information from significant impacts, and then preserves and records the information available five seconds before the crash. In this event, the crash into the side of Sleepy’s building was a significant collision and the preserved data included date from the five seconds prior to that impact. The analysis revealed that prior to the crash into the side of Sleepy’s building, the engine throttle jumped from 23% to 59%, peaking in speed at 19 MPH ½ second pre-crash. There were varying degrees of steering input to the left for the duration of the pre-impact, and the accelerator pedal was reported to be at 100% from 5 seconds to 1.5 seconds pre-crash, then 89% at 1 second and 92% at ½ second pre-crash and 0% at impact.
24. In connection with the events outlined above, Josue Felix, Hector Felix, and Nico Vega were indicted by a Bergen County Grand Jury on the following charges in connection with the break-in at the Jennifer Convertibles: one count of conspiracy to commit armed burglary, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:5-2 and 18-2; one count of armed burglary, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:18-2; one count of possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4d; one count of possession of a weapon under circumstances not manifestly appropriate for such lawful uses as it may have, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5d; and one count of resisting arrest, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:29-2a(2).
25. On April 18, 2016, all three co-defendants plead guilty to an amended charge of burglary, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:18-2. On June 3, 2016, Hector Felix and Nico Vega were sentenced to three years with the New Jersey Department of Corrections, while Josue Felix was sentenced to five years with the New Jersey Department of Corrections.
Based on the material facts that are not in dispute set forth in paragraphs 1 to 23 above, Officer 1 clearly used justifiable force for the protection of himself/herself. Applying the relevant statutes and the Attorney General’s Directive to the undisputed facts outlined above, we conclude that the use of deadly force by Officer 1 was legally justified. Specifically, N.J.S.A. 2C:3-4a states that "the use of force upon or toward another person is justifiable when the actor reasonably believes that such force is immediately necessary for the purpose of protecting himself against the use of unlawful force by such other person on the present occasion." The law defines a "reasonable belief" as one which would be held by a person of ordinary prudence and intelligence situated as Officer 1 was at the time of the officer-involved shooting.
Here, Officer 1 exited his/her marked patrol car while in uniform, drew his/her weapon, and verbally ordered the burglars to stop as s/he stood next to his/her patrol car. Instead of complying, Mr. Reyes chose to back-up, then drive and accelerate toward Officer 1. As the Kia approached him/her, Officer 1 discharged his/her weapon as s/he faced the unlawful force from Reyes. Officer 1 gave verbal commands to stop; Mr. Reyes disregarded those commands; Mr. Reyes drove the Kia at Officer 1 who was impacted and displaced onto the front hood of a car; and Officer 1 discharged his/her weapon after Mr. Reyes began accelerating toward him/her, there is ample evidence to justify the use of force employed by Officer 1. Thus, Officer 1 was justified in using deadly force because such force was immediately necessary to protect himself/herself from being struck by the vehicle Mr. Reyes was driving toward him/her.
The deliberate actions that Mr. Reyes took while behind the wheel of the Kia clearly evince his intent. Mr. Reyes ignored Officer 1’s commands to stop. Instead, he backed up the Kia, then accelerated and drove at Officer 1. After Officer 1 was projected onto the front hood of the car, Mr. Reyes stopped the vehicle abruptly, dislodging Officer 1 from the vehicle. As s/he was on the ground, Mr. Reyes proceeded to run over Officer 1’s legs.
The final round discharged by Officer 1 through the driver’s side window came after s/he had been struck and later run over by Mr. Reyes. Mr. Reyes had just run over Officer 1’s legs and was in position to drive at him/her again. As Officer 1 approached the Kia after it crashed into the Sleepy’s, s/he stated both the driver and the left passenger turned toward him/her, which posed a potential threat. Thereafter, Officer 1 reloaded his duty weapon, but did not continue firing as Mr. Reyes continued driving the Kia toward the highway.
Compliance with the Attorney General’s Directive
Bergen County Prosecutor Gurbir S. Grewal has reviewed this matter. In this regard, the BCPO’s investigation was conducted in compliance with all relevant provisions of the Attorney General’s Directive. In addition, a comprehensive conflicts inquiry was conducted to ensure that no actual or potential conflicts of interest existed for Prosecutor Grewal, former Prosecutor John L. Molinelli, or any of the supervisors or detectives assigned to the investigation.
Subsequent Review by the Attorney General’s Office
Pursuant to the Attorney General’s Directive, the results of this investigation and the legal conclusions reached were reviewed by the Attorney General’s Office. On January 11, 2017, Elie Honig, Director of the Division of Criminal Justice, advised Prosecutor Grewal that the Attorney General’s Office agreed with the BCPO’s conclusion that the use of deadly force was legally justified and that there are no material facts in dispute that required presentation of this matter to the Grand Jury.