NEWARK, NJ - An Essex County grand jury on Tuesday indicted a city cop who exited his vehicle several times to shoot at a fleeing car, leaving one man dead and another seriously injured.
Jovanny Crespo, 26, was charged with aggravated manslaughter, aggravated assault, two counts of possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose and two counts of official misconduct nearly four months after the Jan. 28 incident.
Authorities say Crespo shot at the car after it fled from a traffic stop, hitting Gregory Griffin and Andrew Dixon, both of Newark, in the head,
Griffin, 46, later died at University Hospital from his injuries, while Dixon, 35, sustained serious injuries, the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office said.
"This is the first fatal police-involved shooting to result in an indictment in Essex County in recent memory," the prosecutor's office said in a statement.
The officer who was indicted was on the force for less than two years when he shot at the car repeatedly.
Crespo, of Newark, was not the original officer who initiated the traffic stop, the prosecutor’s office said. A female officer made the stop in the area of Clinton Avenue and Thomas Street. She reported she saw a gun in the vehicle Griffin was driving.
Several other police vehicles gave chase, including one with Crespo riding in the passenger seat.
Police body and dash camera footage show Crespo jump out of his vehicle at least three times in different locations and shoot at the moving vehicle. He gets back into the police vehicle as it continues giving chase.
“I think I shot him,” Crespo says in the video after leaving the police car and shooting at one point. “I seen the gun. He pointed the gun at me. Bro, he pointed the gun right at me.”
After leaving his police vehicle and shooting a third time, the fleeing vehicle stops and Crespo opens the door to pull the passenger out.
“I shot him in the head,” Crespo says as other officers rush up to the vehicle driven by Griffin. He later says, “Yo, I shot both of them.”
As Crespo walks on a nearby sidewalk away from the scene, he tells another officer, “I think he ran my foot over or something.”
“I can't believe he pointed the gun at me,” he later adds. “Oh wow. I thought he was going to shoot me, bro. He tried to run me over too.”
A loaded semi-automatic handgun was allegedly found in the car that sped off, the public safety department previously said. Dixon, the passenger in the fleeing vehicle, was charged with unlawful possession of a weapon and possession of a prohibited weapon, the public safety department previously said.
The Newark Police Division said it follows state Attorney General’s use of force guidelines about shooting at a moving vehicle.
Those guidelines say that officers involved in a pursuit shouldn’t fire from or at a moving vehicle except as a last resort to prevent imminent death or injury. There also has to be no other means available to avert the danger.
Crespo’s name was not released to the public until now for “officer safety,” said a police spokeswoman in February when it was first announced that evidence about the shooting was being presented to a grand jury.
Mayor Ras Baraka said Tuesday the indictment was a sad day for the city, police department and the families of the Griffin and Dixon.
“We are under a consent decree and this shows that when police officers break the law, they will be held to the same standards as all others, particularly at a time when justice in incidents involving the police is not happening around the country,” Baraka said.
The city’s consent decree went into effect in 2016, after a federal review found the Newark police force had a pattern of unconstitutional stops, searches and arrests. The agreement between the U.S. Justice Department and the city also appointed a monitor to oversee improvements in police training and accountability.
The prosecutor's office said Crespo was arrested immediately after the indictment was handed down. He is being held at the Essex County Correctional Facility in Newark.
He faces life in prison if convicted on all counts.