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Grand Jury Declines to Charge NJ Officer Who Fatally Struck a Motorist Outside of a Disabled Car

East Brunswick

By: Richard L. Smith 

A state grand jury has voted not to file criminal charges at the conclusion of its deliberations regarding the death of Julius Filep, 55, of Edison.

Officials said Mr. Filep was fatally injured on August 1, 2021, when a police vehicle struck him in East Brunswick while he walked on Route 18.

Officials said Mr. Filep's death was investigated by the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA) and presented to New Jersey residents on the state grand jury in accordance with the 2019 Independent Prosecutor Directive.

In July 2021, OPIA issued standard operating procedures (SOPs) to ensure these grand jury presentations are conducted in a neutral, objective manner, with appropriate transparency regarding the process, consistent with the Directive.

The investigation included interviews with witnesses, a review of video footage from a local business establishment and a citizen's dash camera, an event data recorder for the police vehicle, multiple 9-1-1 calls, radio transmissions, and autopsy results from the medical examiner.

This evidence was presented to a state grand jury. After hearing the testimony and evidence, the grand jury concluded its deliberations Monday, July 24, 2023, and voted "no bill," concluding no criminal charges should be filed against Patrolman Mitchell Ngai of the East Brunswick Police Department.

 Officer Ngai was on-duty and in uniform while operating a marked patrol vehicle at the time of the fatal accident.

According to the investigation, a vehicle struck a utility pole in a single-vehicle accident along the northbound side of the highway. That driver was later summoned for careless driving after the investigation revealed he had been sleeping while operating his vehicle. 

That crash caused the utility pole, electrical transformers, wires, and other debris to fall on both the northbound and southbound sides of the highway. Additionally, that first vehicle remained disabled on the road. 

Mr. Filep was operating his vehicle in the northbound lanes, and his car was disabled after making an impact with debris on the ground. On the southbound side of the highway, a third driver and an 18-wheel truck drove over the downed wires, resulting in arching electrical wires that were on fire. 

After Mr. Filep and others placed 9-1-1 calls, two East Brunswick Patrol Officers were dispatched to the highway's south side and were advised that there were "wires down" and a car crash. Patrolman Ngai arrived in the area approximately five minutes after the initial accident.

 In light of where he was located when he initially received the call for service, Officer Ngai was traveling on Route 18 northbound. 

At that time, there was an active fire in the southbound side of the highway, resulting from the downed, arching wires from the earlier crash. Mr. Filep was standing in the left lane of the northbound side of the road, near the concrete median, wearing a black shirt and black shorts, in an area that was not illuminated by street lights. 

Patrolman Ngai's vehicle struck a wooden pole in the roadway due to the first crash and then struck Mr. Filep before crashing into the first disabled vehicle on the northbound side of the highway. Emergency medical personnel aided Mr. Filep, who was transported by ambulance to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, where he was pronounced deceased at 4:13 a.m.

A 2019 law, P.L. 2019, c. 1, 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. The grand jury is instructed on the elements of the potential criminal offenses, including criminal homicide offenses, that could be brought, and, as required by statutes, the grand jury is instructed on self-defense and other forms of legal justification.

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.

After 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 A.G.'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.