Law & Justice

Use of Deadly Force by Off-Duty Police Officer Justified, Prosecutor Says 

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SOMERVILLE, NJ - An unnamed off-duty Franklin Township police officer was justified in shooting an intruder in his Manville home, authorities said Monday.

Franklin Township Police Department's (FTPD), Public Information Officer, Lt. Phil Rizzo did not release the name of the officer involved in the shooting, only his age, 48, and his years of service when asked for comment. 

“Officers are required to make split-second decisions every day, "FTPD Chief, Richard A. Grammer said in a statement referring to the 24-year veteran officer. "While off duty, when faced with a home invader, our officer used his training and experience to protect himself and his family. He exemplified the highest level of professionalism and valor during this violent encounter. I am extremely proud of our officer as he exhibited all of the traits that are intrinsic within the Franklin Township Police Department.”

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The wife of the off-duty officer called 9-1-1 on March 20, 2017, at approximately 12:08 a.m. to report an intruder inside her home, according to authorities. The caller was in the home with her husband, who is employed as a Franklin Township police officer and their two-year-old child during the attempted home robbery, according to authorities. 

When Manville police arrived at the home Tyreek D. Cook and the off-duty officer were located inside a foyer located inside the front door of the home, police say. The off-duty officer was holding a handgun, and Cook was bleeding from an apparent gunshot wound to his chest, police say. Manville officers handcuffed Cook and the Manville officers, along with the off-duty officer, administered first aid to Cook, police say. Both Cook and the off-duty officer were transported to Robert Wood Johnson Hospital in New Brunswick for treatment, police say. 

The Somerset County Prosecutor's Office (SCPO) determined a grand jury would not be needed to review the incident because no material facts were in dispute regarding the lawfulness of the use of force, according to authorities. The investigation was conducted in accordance with Attorney General Directive 2006-5, according to authorities. 

"Pursuant to the directive, the Attorney General’s Office conducted an independent review of the use of force and agreed with SCPO’s determination that there were no material facts in dispute and that the use of deadly force by the Officer, in this case, was justified," Somerset Prosecutor Michael H. Robertson said in a press release Monday. "The Attorney General’s Office concurred with SCPO that it is not necessary to present this matter to the Grand Jury." 

Cook pled guilty on November 17, 2017, and was charged with 17 counts of second degree and third-degree burglary, third-degree theft, and third-degree receiving stolen property, in exchange for a plea offer of five years in New Jersey State Prison with 85 percent to be served without parole, according to authorities. 

Police say the charges were in connection with this burglary and others which occurred in Manville from March 15 to March 19, 2017. 

Robertson provided the following account of the shooting and other details:

The off-duty officer/homeowner stated that he was awakened by loud noises coming from the first floor of his residence.  He then armed himself with his personally owned 9mm handgun and instructed his wife to call 9-1-1 and to inform the dispatcher of a burglary in progress. Additionally, he advised his wife to inform the operator that he was a police officer.  He descended the stairs from his second-story bedroom to the first floor foyer area.  He then proceeded to walk down a hallway into the kitchen area where he noticed an open window in the dining room, with the curtain on the floor. 

While in the kitchen, the off-duty officer encountered Cook, who was standing in the dining room with the lights off.  The homeowner announced, “police, stop, police, [get] on the …floor, get down.”  The homeowner stated that Cook was “holding something in his left hand and arm,” as well as “something” in his right hand.  Cook did not comply with the verbal commands, but instead “jerk[ed] his right hand up and towards” the off-duty officer while simultaneously “darting” to his right into the family room.  The off-duty officer stated that the object in Cook’s hand, coupled with Cook’s sudden hand and arm movement, made the homeowner believe that Cook was aiming a gun at him.  At this point, the off-duty officer fired because there was “no doubt in my mind, I was going to get shot at.”

Following the first shot that the off-duty officer fired, Cook continued from the dining room into the family room, towards the front foyer and staircase which leads to the second floor where the off-duty officer’s wife and child were located.  The homeowner ran in the opposite direction of Cook with his intent to “protect the stairway and prevent [Cook] from going upstairs where his family was located.”  By going in this direction, the off-duty officer once again observed Cook, who was now in the family room area adjacent to the foyer.  

The off-duty officer once again announced, “police, drop to the floor.”  Cook once again ignored these verbal commands and charged towards the off-duty officer who attempted to apprehend Cook.  A struggle ensued in the foyer area, during which the off-duty officer felt his handgun “being pulled and twisted” by Cook.  The off-duty officer believed that Cook “was trying to take [his handgun] from [him],” and he was “trying to protect that.”  While the off-duty officer was attempting to retain control of his handgun, his finger was inside the trigger guard and being twisted with the gun, at this point a second shot was discharged.  The off-duty officer stated “didn’t know if I got hit” and “didn’t know if he got hit.”

Following the second shot, the off-duty officer believed he “had to get his gun out of here as quick as I could.”  The off-duty officer then struck Cook on the head with his hand/handgun, at which point a third round was discharged.  The off-duty officer explained, “I didn’t intend for that, but a round went off.”  During the struggle, the off-duty officer repeatedly stated “stop, stop, stop,” but Cook did not comply.  

Following the third shot, Cook pushed the off-duty officer back across the hallway into a piece of furniture.  The struggle continued with both individuals on the floor.  While on the floor the homeowner continued to try to gain control of Cook until the arrival of Manville Police Officers.  

The investigation included multiple canvases of the area, interviews of the female resident, and the off-duty officer, an attempted interview of Cook, the review of all police reports for all responding officers to the scene, the 9-1-1 recording, police radio transmissions, and Crime Scene Investigations and Forensic ballistics results.  Detectives found an open window in the dining room located on the first floor in the rear (west side) of the residence.  On a table inside the dining room, police located a spent 9mm shell casing.  Inside the front foyer area, detectives located the off-duty officer’s 9mm handgun on the windowsill next to the staircase leading to the second floor (where it had been placed after being secured by a responding Manville Officer). 

Detectives observed bloodstains throughout the foyer area.  Detectives also located a pillowcase and numerous items of the homeowner’s personal property scattered about the foyer (e.g., a black Wii game console, a black Wii controller, an iPod, and a camera bag) that had been moved from their original locations.  Two spent shell casings where located in the interior foyer area.  Detectives located two apparent bullet holes in the area of the front door, one through the sidelight window located next to the front door, and one through the screen of the front door.  Immediately outside of the front door/foyer area on the exterior of the residence, detectives recovered a partially expanded spent 9mm projectile on the front entrance mat.  A review of all the evidence, including the statement of the off-duty officer’s spouse, corroborates the facts provided by the off-duty officer involved.

The investigation concerning the use of deadly force in this matter determined that the level of force utilized was justifiable under N.J.S.A. 2C:3-4, (Use of force in Self Protection), N.J.S.A. 2C:3-7 (Use of force justifiable to effect an arrest) and N.J.S.A. 2C:3-6 (Use of force in defense of premises or personal property). The off-duty officer was authorized to use deadly force as a police officer who was making an arrest for a burglary of a dwelling and reasonably believed that deadly force was immediately necessary to protect himself or his wife/child from imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm. Additionaly, the off-duty officer was authorized to use deadly force as a private citizen who encountered a burglar within his home.

In accordance with New Jersey Attorney General Law Enforcement Directive No. 2006-5, the investigation was conducted under the direction of Somerset County Prosecutor Michael H. Robertson and his staff, specifically the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office Shooting Response Team, which is comprised of detectives assigned to the Major Crimes Unit, the Crime Scene Investigations and Forensics Unit, the Ballistics Unit, and the Internal Affairs Unit.  Upon completion of the investigation, the conclusions reached were reviewed and approved by the Director of Criminal Justice, Elie Honig.

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