Fort Lee Officers Use of Deadly Force Against Jaquan Suber, Justified

The Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office has concluded its investigation of the police shooting of Jaquan Suber on September 3, 2017 by Fort Lee Police Department Officers, and has determined that the Officers use of deadly force against Suber was legally justified. 

Officials said there were no material facts in dispute regarding the non-fatal shooting of Suber, the BCPO determined that it was not necessary to present the matter to a grand jury. 

The entire investigation was conducted in accordance with the July 28, 2015 Attorney General Supplemental Law Enforcement Directive Regarding Uniform Statewide Procedures and Best Practices for Conducting Police Use of Force Investigations (“Attorney General’s Directive”). 

In addition, the Attorney General’s Office reviewed and concurred with the BCPO’s investigative findings and determination that there were no material facts in dispute.  As such, the Attorney General’s Office agreed that it was not necessary to present this matter to a grand jury.

Overview of Investigative Measures Undertaken

The BCPO Major Crimes Unit fully investigated the shooting of Suber.  That investigation included, among other measures: interviews of the police officers involved, including Fort Lee and Leonia police officers; interviews of civilian witnesses, who had significant information on the development of the circumstances which evolved into the shooting incident as well as the incident itself; the collection of evidence at the scene; the review of ballistics evidence; and the review of videotape evidence that corroborated the witness statements.

Summary of Findings
On Sunday, September 3, 2017, the BCPO’s Major Crimes Unit began investigating the police involved shooting of Jaquan Suber, which occurred in the driveway of 485 Summit Avenue, Fort Lee, New Jersey.

According to police, at approximately 10:33 a.m., Fort Lee Police Department Detectives 1 and 2 arrived at 485 Summit Avenue in Fort Lee to investigate a missing person report filed the day before by residents of that address.  After a brief discussion about the missing person report, the residents told the detectives of their concerns for their own safety due to the actions of their basement apartment tenant, identified as Jaquan Suber. 

Specifically, the residents told the detectives that Fort Lee police officers had been summoned to the home earlier that morning because Suber had, for the second time in as many weeks, left gas from the stove flowing into the apartment.  Given the residents’ fear for their own safety, as well as the detectives’ concern for Suber, the detectives decided to investigate the matter further.

The detectives walked to the backyard entrance to Suber’s apartment.  There, Suber agreed to speak with the detectives, but refused to allow them entry into his apartment.  Detective 1 noted that Suber was behaving bizarrely and irrationally.  When asked if he was experiencing mental problems, Suber acknowledged that he was “going through some things,” but did not want to discuss them further with the police. 

Based upon their assessment of Suber and the surrounding circumstances, the detectives decided to contact 262-HELP, the Bergen County designated psychiatric emergency screening program.  They also requested that a uniformed officer respond to the location. 

As the detectives continued to speak with Suber, uniformed Fort Lee Police Officer A arrived in the backyard. Upon seeing the uniformed officer, Suber became noticeably agitated.  Detective 1 asked Suber to step away from his apartment doorway and into the backyard.  Suber refused, turned from Detective 1 and began to walk back into the apartment.  Detective 1 began to follow Suber into the apartment at which point Suber produced a handgun and pointed at Detective 1. 

Detective 1 immediately retreated into the backyard, where he/she, Detective 2 and Officer A set a secured perimeter around the rear of the home.  They were joined by other responding officers, including Officers B and C.  Thereafter, Suber engaged in an armed stand-off with the police.

For approximately six minutes, the officers pleaded with Suber to discard his weapon and surrender. Police told Suber that they would bring him to a doctor and get him help but Suber refused and repeatedly pointed his gun at them. At some point, Suber left the area of his back door and ran around the backyard and garage area closing in on the location of the officers - all while continuing to point his weapon at them.  

Ultimately the officers retreated from the backyard and set up a wider perimeter around the entire home. They also requested that Fort Lee Police Department’s Emergency Services Unit respond to the scene.  From the backyard, Suber continued to point his weapon in various directions, both toward the officers and in the direction of windows of occupied neighboring residences. 

According to authorities, Suber then turned his attention up the driveway.  He pointed his weapon and fired it in the direction of the officers who had taken cover behind cars parked in the driveway.  Detective 1 and Police Officers B and C all returned fire.  Suber was struck three times; in the right side of the chest, his right upper arm and in his right thigh. The investigation revealed that Detective 1 fired his/her firearm four times, while Officer C fired his/her firearm three times. 

The investigation further revealed that Officer B, who was armed with a rifle, discharged his/her weapon one time.  Because Detective 1 and Officer C were using the same make and model firearm and because not every projectile was recovered, it is difficult to determine definitively which officer(s) struck Suber.

After being struck the first time, Suber fell momentarily and then raised his firearm and pointed it toward police again.  He only dropped his weapon upon being struck a second time.  Despite having been shot and ultimately losing his weapon, Suber continued to advance toward the police by running up the driveway. 

Police said Suber then engaged Detective 1 and two uniformed officers in a physical struggle.  Suber was eventually subdued with the assistance of a Leonia Special Police Officer who deployed his/her Taser on Suber. 

EMS rendered medical aid at the scene to Suber and he was transported by ambulance to Hackensack University Medical Center.  Suber’s injuries were non-life threatening and he was ultimately released from the hospital into police custody for criminal charges relating to this incident. 

A Bergen County Grand Jury on December 18, 2017, handed up an indictment against Suber, charging him with seven counts of pointing a firearm at law enforcement officers, two counts of pointing a firearm at lay persons, three counts of attempted murder, one count of resisting arrest, one count of possession of a firearm for an unlawful purpose, one count of unlawful possession of a firearm, and one count of being a certain person not to possess a firearm.

Based upon a detailed investigation and review of the circumstances surrounding the shooting of Jaquan Suber, the application of relevant statutory authority, and the Attorney General’s Directive to the undisputed facts of this case, the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office concludes that the involved officers were justified in their use of deadly force against Jaquan Suber.  N.J.S.A. 2C:3-4a states that “the use of force upon or towards another person is justifiable when the actor reasonably believes that such force is immediately necessary for the purpose of protecting himself/herself against the use of unlawful force by such other person on the present occasion.”  

The law defines a “reasonable belief” as one which would be held by a person of ordinary prudence and intelligence situated as Detective 1 and Police Officers B and C were at the time of the officer-involved shooting.

Here, Suber introduced a firearm into the interaction he had with the police at his doorway; he reached for it and immediately pointed it at the officers.  The officers quickly sought positions of cover and proceeded to give Suber verbal commands to put his gun down.  Despite the officers’ attempts to de-escalate the situation through use of verbal commands, Suber repeatedly pointed his gun at the officers and, at times, pointed in the direction of nearby occupied residences.  He also chased after one of the officers with his gun drawn.  Suber eventually shot at the officers and, despite being shot himself, continued to charge towards the officers who were forced to use physical force and a Taser to ultimately subdue him. 

While the police would have been justified in firing their weapons much earlier during this incident, the officers showed restraint and used deadly force only after Suber threatened them with his gun multiple times and only after he fired on them. 

There is no question that the officer’s use of deadly force was necessary to protect themselves and others from imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm, as is required by the Attorney General’s Use of Force Policy. 

Pursuant to the Attorney General’s Directive, the results of this investigation and the legal conclusions reached were reviewed by the Attorney General’s Office.  On February 5, 2018, Elie Honig, Director of the Division of Criminal Justice, advised Acting Prosecutor Calo that the Attorney General’s Office agreed with the BCPO’s conclusion that the use of force was legally justified and that there are no material facts in dispute that require presentation of this matter to the Grand Jury.