A state grand jury has voted not to file any criminal charges at the conclusion of its deliberations regarding the death of Chazz Hilliard, 29, of Newark, who died on February 29, 2020, at East Jersey State Prison.
The Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA) investigated the death in custody and presented it to 16 to 23 New Jersey residents called to serve on the grand jury in accordance with AG Directive 2019-4, the “Independent Prosecutor Directive” issued in 2019.
In July 2021, OPIA issued standard operating procedures (“SOPs”) to ensure that these grand jury presentations are conducted in a neutral, objective manner and with appropriate transparency regarding the process, consistent with the Independent Prosecutor Directive.
The investigation included interviews of witnesses, a review of recordings from video surveillance cameras, and autopsy results from the medical examiner.
After hearing testimony and evidence from the investigation, the grand jury completed its deliberations yesterday, March 29, and voted “no bill,” meaning the grand jury concluded that no charges should be filed against any officer because no correctional police officer involved caused Mr. Hilliard’s death.
According to the investigation, on February 29, 2020, correctional police officers responded to Mr. Hilliard’s cell in response to reports from other inmates that he was acting erratically.
When they arrived, officers observed a broken window and glass scattered throughout the cell. Mr. Hilliard appeared to be causing bodily harm to himself. He had blood on his hands and mouth.
Several officers attempted to remove Mr. Hilliard from the cell and transport him to the infirmary, but Mr. Hilliard was uncooperative.
A struggle ensued, and the officers used force, including OC pepper spray and handcuffs, to restrain him. Mr. Hilliard was then transported for medical evaluation.
While at the infirmary, he became unresponsive. Medical staff and officers performed CPR and other life-saving measures, which were unsuccessful.
An autopsy was conducted, and the Medical Examiner determined that the cause of death was cardiac arrhythmia and blunt impact injuries of the face sustained in a state of enhanced excitement while under the influence of synthetic drugs.
The following correctional police officers were involved in the incident: Officer Thomas Ahern, Officer Rafael Carrero, Officer Eric Durkot, Officer Rocco Faccone, Officer William Lykin, Officer Vito Muscaritolo, Officer Edward Parin, Officer Kelvin Roman, Officer James Sage, Officer Jonathan Shealy, and Officer Christopher Sebastian.
A 2019 law requires the Attorney General’s Office to conduct investigations of a person’s death that occurs during an encounter with a law enforcement officer acting in the officer’s official capacity or while the decedent is in custody.
It requires that all such investigations be presented to a grand jury to determine if the evidence supports the return of an indictment against the officer or officers involved.
A conflicts check was conducted pursuant to the Independent Prosecutor Directive, and no actual or potential conflict of interest was found involving any individual assigned to the investigation.
Prior to presentation to the grand jury, the investigation was reviewed by OPIA Executive Director Thomas Eicher in accordance with the policies and procedures established for these presentations in the SOPs.
At the conclusion of these investigations, pursuant to the Independent Prosecutor Directive and SOPs, OPIA determines whether any principal should be referred to the appropriate law enforcement agency for administrative review in accordance with the AG’s Internal Affairs Policy & Procedures.
OPIA monitors any resulting review and takes such actions as are necessary to ensure that the review is completed in a timely fashion and that appropriate actions are taken based on the results of the review.