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Grand Jury Concludes Use of Force Justified in Non-Fatal Police Shooting in Woodbridge

Middlesex County

By: Najla Alexander

Authorities in Middlesex County announced that a Middlesex County grand jury has voted not to file any criminal charges against two Woodbridge police officers at the conclusion of its deliberations regarding the non-fatal police-involved shooting of Juan Martinez, 40, of Newark, on June 27, 2023.AdThis matter was investigated by the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office (MCPO) and presented to Middlesex County residents serving on a county grand jury in accordance with the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office’s 2019 Independent Prosecutor Directive (the “Directive”), officials said.

In July 2021, officials say, the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability issued Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to ensure such grand jury presentations are conducted in a neutral and objective manner, with the utmost transparency controlling the process, consistent with the Directive.

Officials stated the investigation included interviews of witnesses, photographs, surveillance camera footage, body-worn camera footage, physical evidence collected by the Middlesex County Prosecutors Office’s Crime Scene Unit, and ballistics evidence examined by personnel from the State Police’s Firearms Unit.

According to officials, this evidence, along with recorded interviews given by the two Woodbridge officers who fired their weapons, was presented to the grand jury.

After hearing testimony and receiving this evidence, the grand jury concluded that no criminal charges should be filed against Officers Jeain Rastegarpanah and Vincent Pardee of the Woodbridge Police Department, authorities said. 

According to the investigation, on June 27, 2023, the Woodbridge Township Police Department received a report that a Dodge Ram parked at the Sansone Auto Mall had “suffered an impact.”

This was reported by the owner of the Dodge Ram via 911, officials said. 

In response, officials say, Woodbridge Police Officer Jean Rastegarpanah and Officer Vincent Pardee responded to the car dealership, which was closed at the time.

Middlesex County officials stated that the officers arrived at approximately 2:24 a.m. and approached the Dodge on foot.

They observed, through fogged windows, that there was a person, later identified as Juan Martinez, inside, authorities say. 

The officers ordered Mr. Martinez to exit the vehicle, but he did not comply. Officials said that a black SUV entered the dealership parking lot and drove in the direction of Officers Rastegarpanah and Pardee at a high speed.

According to officials, the SUV also made several turns and was driving in an erratic manner before coming to a stop next to the Dodge Ram.AdAt this point, Martinez exited the Dodge Ram and jumped into the SUV, which began to move again. Rastegarpanah and Pardee both discharged their service weapons in the direction of the black SUV, officials stated. 

Officials said Mr. Martinez was struck three times as he exited the Dodge Ram and entered the rear of the Black SUV, which fled from the scene.

According to their later formal statements, the officers feared for their lives. Juan Martinez suffered non-life-threatening injuries and was treated at a local hospital over the course of four days.

Upon discharge, officials say Mr. Martinez was charged with burglary.

Authorities say the driver of the vehicle, Alex Martinez, was charged with conspiracy to commit Burglary and Hindering apprehension.

Officials stated he remains at large.

The grand jury was instructed on the elements of potential criminal offenses that could be brought, including Aggravated Assault and Official Misconduct, officials say, and as required by statute, the grand jury was further instructed on the forms of legal justification, including Self-defense, Defense of others, and Use of force in law enforcement.AdBy concluding that the officers were legally justified in their use of deadly force, the grand jury decided not to lodge criminal charges against the officers, officials said. 

Officials say pursuant to the Attorney General’s Directive governing these matters, a search was conducted to determine if a conflict of interest existed between the officers involved and members of the MCPO investigating the shooting.

As a result of that search, no actual, potential, or apparent conflict of interest was found, according to officials.