|TRENTON – A state grand jury today voted not to file criminal charges against any officers involved in a shooting in Rutherford last September in which three local officers and a state trooper fired upon the driver of a stolen SUV, fatally wounding him, after a pursuit that ended when the SUV crashed. A passenger in the SUV was not struck by the gunfire. The suspects were armed with a loaded handgun.
The fatal shooting of Kashad Ashford, 23, of Newark, was investigated by the Attorney General’s Shooting Response Team, made up of attorneys and detectives from the Division of Criminal Justice and detectives from the State Police Major Crime Unit. The investigation included numerous witness interviews, including interviews of all of the officers involved; collection of forensic evidence, including crime-scene and ballistics evidence; and autopsy results from the medical examiner. After hearing testimony and evidence from the investigation, the state grand jury voted “no true bill,” meaning it declined to indict any of the law enforcement officers involved.
The shooting occurred immediately before 2:30 a.m. on Sept. 16, 2014 on the Ridge Road overpass over Route 3 in Rutherford. With regard to the specific factual circumstances of the incident, the events leading to the shooting began about 2:12 a.m., when a resident of North Arlington heard someone attempting to break into a car in her driveway. She shouted from her window and saw an individual flee to an SUV in the street. The woman called 911, and a BOLO (Be On LookOut) alert was issued for police for a black SUV occupied by a suspect wearing a black hoodie. A Lyndhurst officer first spotted the suspect vehicle matching the BOLO description stopped on a street near Ridge Road and drove closer in his marked vehicle to obtain more information. The suspect SUV – a stolen black Nissan Armada – then ran a red light, turned left on Ridge Road and headed north at high speed. The officer activated his lights and siren and pursued the SUV, but lost sight of it. Meanwhile, another Lyndhurst officer in a marked vehicle spotted the suspect SUV traveling at a high rate of speed and became the lead pursuer. The officer who initially pursued the suspect SUV caught up with the pursuit and was a witness at the scene of the shooting, but he was not one of the four officers who fired upon Ashford.
The second Lyndhurst officer who joined the pursuit and became the lead pursuer, Officer 1, is one of two officers whose bullets struck Ashford, fatally wounding him. Officer 1 activated his lights and siren and pursued the suspect SUV as it traveled on Ridge Road at a high rate of speed through residential and commercial areas, recklessly running many red lights and stop signs and going airborne over some hills. At the end of the pursuit, the headlights and rear lamps of the SUV were turned off. Multiple officers reported that just prior to the crash, the driver of the suspect SUV drove directly into the lane of an oncoming Lyndhurst police vehicle, which was responding to the pursuit, in an apparent attempt to strike the police vehicle head-on. The Lyndhurst officer driving that vehicle, Officer 2, had to swerve to avoid a collision. The driver of the SUV lost control, crashing into a concrete barrier and yellow DOT sand barrels on the northbound side of Ridge Road on the Route 3 overpass. A Rutherford police officer who also was nearly struck by the SUV, Officer 3, parked his marked police vehicle behind the SUV to block it in. Additional police vehicles arrived and parked around the SUV.
Officer 1 stated that he got out of his vehicle with his service weapon drawn and approached the vehicle with three other officers: the Lyndhurst officer who was first to pursue the suspect SUV; Officer 2, who is the other officer who ultimately shot and wounded Ashford; and Officer 3. Officer 3 also is one of the officers who shot at Ashford, firing a single round from his service handgun, but there is no evidence that his bullet struck Ashford. The remaining officer who fired at Ashford, Officer 4, is a state trooper who was armed with a shotgun. Officer 4 arrived at the scene with another state trooper shortly after the local police officers. He fired four shotgun rounds, but the ballistics report indicates that none of the projectiles that hit Ashford came from a shotgun.
Officer 1 stated that as he and the other municipal officers approached the suspect SUV, he could see that there were two occupants, and he and other officers shouted commands for the driver to stop the vehicle. He said that he heard the SUV accelerating and saw the vehicle jerking in a rear and forward motion as the driver attempted to get free of the debris and barriers. Officer 1 said that immediately prior to the shooting, the driver shifted the SUV into forward and drove toward him and Officer 2. Officer 1 stated that he perceived that he would be hit and possibly killed, and that Officer 2 would be killed. He said that he believed he had no choice but to shoot the driver. Officer 1 fired three hollow-point rounds from his .40-caliber service handgun and saw the driver go lifeless. The medical examiner and ballistics reports concluded that at least two of the shots fired by Officer 1 struck Ashford in the head.
Officer 2 stated that he exited his patrol car with his service weapon drawn and approached the suspect SUV, which the driver had reversed, ramming the unoccupied Rutherford patrol car parked behind it. He said the SUV was bucking back and forth like it was trying to push that patrol car out of the way. Officer 2 said that he was standing toward the front of the vehicle and was concerned that the driver would push the patrol car back a little and then drive forward and hit him. He said that he and Officer 1 shouted for the driver of the SUV to turn off the vehicle and show his hands. Officer 2 stated that immediately before he fired his gun, the driver had his left hand on the steering wheel and was crouched down toward the center console like he was trying to grab something. Officer 2 said that he feared the driver was going for a weapon. Officer 2 stated that he fired when the driver’s right shoulder came straight up in a quick movement like he might be raising a gun. After the shooting, a .357-caliber revolver loaded with six bullets was found in the SUV between the driver’s right hip and the center console.
Officer 2 fired six hollow-point rounds from his .40-caliber service handgun. At least one of his rounds struck Ashford in the head. The medical examiner and ballistics reports concluded that Ashford suffered seven gunshot wounds, including one graze wound, all of which appear to have been caused by rounds fired by Officers 1 and 2. The medical examiner determined that the cause of Ashford’s death was “gunshot wounds of head and upper extremities.” A total of four bullets struck Ashford in the head. Ashford also suffered wounds of the left shoulder and both forearms. As previously stated, there is no evidence that Ashford was hit by gunfire from Officer 3’s handgun or Officer 4’s shotgun.
Officer 3 stated that after he parked his patrol car behind the suspect SUV, he approached the SUV, which was running but not moving at the time. He said that he and other officers were yelling “let me see your hands,” but the driver did not comply. Officer 3 stated that as the Lyndhurst officer who initiated the pursuit attempted to break the driver’s side window with his baton, the driver threw the SUV into reverse and hit the gas. He said the vehicle was stuck on the sand barriers and that it jumped as the driver attempted to get it free. He stated that the SUV backed into his patrol car and continued to buck forward and back as well as to the side, with its tires squealing. Officer 3 stated that he was about one foot from the driver’s side of the SUV, and the SUV started moving toward him. He stated that he heard gunshots and fired a single shot from his gun as he jumped out of the way of the vehicle. Officer 3 fired one hollow-point round from his .40-caliber service handgun, apparently missing Ashford.
Officer 3 said that immediately after the shots were fired, he could see that the driver was slumped toward the center console but still moving slightly. He and numerous other officers described how the vehicle remained in reverse up against Officer 3’s patrol car, with the tires spinning at extremely high speed because the driver’s foot apparently was stuck on the accelerator. Smoke from the spinning tires engulfed the SUV, obscuring their vision.
Officer 4, the state trooper, arrived at the scene about 40 seconds after the initial shots were fired. At this point, it was very difficult to see or hear because of the thick smoke and screeching of the SUV’s wheels, which continued to spin and cause the vehicle to buck, according to all of the witnesses interviewed. Officer 4 stated that as he walked toward the front of the SUV, he perceived that the vehicle lurched toward him and feared that it would hit him. He fired four rounds from a 12-gauge shotgun. Forensic investigators determined that no shotgun projectiles hit Ashford.
Officers were seeking a way to turn off the SUV and take custody of the passenger, who had reclined the passenger seat and was lying back. The passenger door would not open. Smoke from the spinning tires continued to engulf the SUV, obscuring their vision, and gravel and debris were being thrown from the right rear wheel, where the tire had melted away. Officer 1 retrieved a ballistics shield from his trunk so they could approach the passenger’s window without getting hit with debris, and Officer 2 broke the window with his baton, enabling officers to extract the passenger, who was not wounded and did not resist. Several officers from Lyndhurst and Rutherford, including the Lyndhurst officer who initiated the pursuit, pulled Ashford from the SUV and began to administer CPR. One officer shut off the SUV. An EMT crew arrived at the scene and continued to administer CPR without success. Ashford was taken to Hackensack Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead about 7:05 a.m.
The autopsy report indicated that Ashford had marijuana and a designer drug commonly referred to as “bath salts” in his system.
The grand jury was instructed as to potential criminal charges against each of the four officers who fired upon Ashford and the legal elements to prove each crime, as well as the law of justification, particularly the use of force in defense of self and others. 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. The grand jury voted not to indict any of the law enforcement officers based upon their consideration of the facts, evidence and testimony from the investigation by the Attorney General’s Shooting Response Team.
The passenger in the vehicle, Jemmaine T. Bynes, 31, of East Orange, was charged at the time of the shooting with unlawful possession of a handgun, possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, possession of a firearm as a convicted felon, and receiving stolen property. It is alleged that Bynes and Ashford were riding together in the stolen SUV seeking to break into or steal other vehicles. A ski mask also was recovered from the SUV. Bynes was shot and killed on March 11, 2015 in Newark.