PATERSON, NJ – For four months, the family of Salvador Del Rosario had no official confirmation of the name of the Paterson police officer who shot and killed the 39 year-old Dominican immigrant in the bedroom of his Redwood Avenue home.
The officer’s identity, along with many other details and reports in the case, were kept confidential, said the family lawyer, John Klotz.
But earlier this month, a lawsuit by North Jersey Media Group forced the city to release a copy of the police report on the incident as well as a recording of the 911 phone call at the start of it.
The records provide new insights into the Sept. 1, 2012 fatal shooting, one that happened after Del Rosario’s family called for help because he had locked himself inside a bedroom and allegedly would not take his medication for epilepsy. Authorities say Police Officer Marj Kush shot Del Rosario as the man waved a hammer and charged towards five police officers.
Klotz, the attorney the dead man’s family hired to pursue a lawsuit against the city, said some of the new details support his clients’ contention that there was no reason for the officers to shoot Del Rosario. But in other instances, information in the report and on the recording contradicts assertions made by the family and its supporters in the days after the incident.
Here is some of the new information contained in the report and tape:
*The person who made the 911 call from the Del Rosario home asked for police officers to be sent to the scene. In the days after the incident, family members and other supporters insisted they had only asked for an ambulance and not police. On the tape, the dispatcher asks, “You need the police or the ambulance?” The caller responded: “Police.”
*Officer Kush was behind a protective shield when he fired the two shots that resulted in Del Rosario’s death. Klotz said the use of the shield undermined the notion that the officer needed to use deadly force against the hammer-wielding man. Klotz also asserted that the police officers should have had other equipment to use to succumb Del Rosario without shooting him, such as a pole with a U-shaped restraint that he said some law enforcement agencies use on emotionally disturbed people.
*One of the officers at the scene spoke Spanish and asked Del Rosario in Spanish to come out of the locked room. Some community leaders, including Councilman Rigo Rodriguez, had asserted after the shooting that the language barrier contributed to the tragedy and they criticized the Paterson Police Department for not having enough officers from Paterson who “speak the language.’’ When told the report said the officer spoke Spanish to Del Rosario, Rodriguez last week said that he did not mean the city needed officers who literally spoke Spanish. The councilman said he was referring to officers who were from the city and knew the lingo and the way people communicate among each other in an urban area like Paterson.
*The officer who fired the fatal shots, Kush, was not one of the first officers at the scene. Three officers preceded him at the apartment, two already had conversations with Del Rosario’s family before Kush arrived and had tried to coax the man out of the room. The police report did not say exactly when Kush got to the scene. Klotz maintained that the officer came to the apartment just a few minutes before the shooting. “It raises the question of how well he had assessed the situation and considered his alternatives,’’ said the lawyer.
*The officers were not sure whether Del Rosario had any weapons with him. The police report said his sister, Martha Del Rosario, told the officers she was unaware whether he had weapons.
All officers involved in the incident have returned to active duty, according to City Police Director Glenn Brown. The Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office plans to present the case to a grand jury in about six weeks, according to Chief Assistant Prosecutor Michael DeMarco. In Passaic County, it is standard policy in police shootings for a grand jury to decide whether the use of deadly force was justified, officials said.
“It’s a tough situation and it’s one that every police officer on the road can easily face,’’ said Brown. “I wasn’t there. I’m not going to second guess the officer who was. I didn’t see what they saw.’’
“It’s a split-second decision,’’ Brown added.
The police report released by the city was written by Officer Anthony Petrazzuolo , who along with his partner, Ariel Sandoval, was first at the scene. The other four officers who responded to the incident were Kush, Guiseppe Ciarla, Sgt. Troy Bailey and Robert Challice, according to the report.
All were inside the apartment, except Ciarla, who remained in an alley looking up through the bedroom window, the report said. The officers inside the apartment were trying to convince Del Rosario to come out of the bedroom.
At some point, Ciarla saw a mirror on the bed rocking, the report said. The officers took that as a sign Del Rosario might be having a seizure and needed immediate medical help, the report said.
So, the five officers outside the bedroom door formed a “tactical” position, the report said. Kush was in front, holding a shield, Petrazzuolo was to his right and Sandoval to his left, the report said. Challice and Bailey were behind them.
The report says Challice “breeched” the locked door, but it does not say exactly how he did that. With the door open, the officers saw Del Rosario standing on the bed, holding a “metal claw hammer,” according to the report. He then jumped off the bed and charged towards the officers, violently swinging the hammer from side to side, the report said.
The report said Del Rosario was two to three feet away from Kush, “within striking distance,” when he raised the hammer above his head. At that point, Kush fired two shots, the report said. “Mr. Del Rosario dropped to the ground,’’ the report said.
The report does not say whether one or both shots hit Del Rosario, nor does it say where he was struck. His family members have said he was shot in the head.
The report also does not say whether any of the other officers drew their weapons during the final moments of the incident.
Klotz said he fears the investigation into the shooting will be “nothing more than a whitewash” because he said authorities still have not released all the reports and audio tapes involving the case. For example, he said, he is still trying to get the audio tapes from the police radio transmissions at the scene, but has not received them yet. Also, he said the prosecutor’s office has refused to provide him with a copy of the “Use of Force” report that Kush should have been required to file regarding the incident.
Klotz said that authorities only have released “selective reports” and he asserted the public won’t have a full picture of the incident until everything is made public.