By: Jeff Sommes
NJ Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin said a state grand jury has voted not to file any criminal charges at the conclusion of its deliberations regarding the death of Stephen Dolceamore, 29, of Springfield, P.A., who died in the custody of the Trenton Police Department on April 3, 2020.
According to AG Platkin, the death in custody was investigated by the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA) and presented to New Jersey residents serving on the grand jury in accordance with the Independent Prosecutor Directive issued in 2019. 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 Independent Prosecutor Directive.
The investigation of this death in custody included witnesses' interviews, video reviews, and autopsy results from the medical examiner.
AG Platkin said after hearing testimony and evidence from the investigation, the grand jury concluded its deliberations on December 5, 2022, and voted "no bill," meaning the grand jury concluded no criminal charges should be filed against the officers involved in this death in custody.
According to the investigation, on April 3, 2020, at approximately 11:45 a.m., Trenton police officers responded to a report of a man behaving erratically and walking into traffic near St. Francis Medical Center. Officers located the subject, later identified as Mr. Dolceamore, who tried to run. Officers pursued Dolceamore on foot, who kept running from the officers inside the parking lot, yelling "help" and claiming that people were after him. Officers deployed O.C. spray with no effect.
AG Platkin said Dolceamore continued to run and fell to the ground. As Dolceamore was on hands and knees and, before being restrained by officers, he continued to yell, "Help" and "I can't breathe."
Officers pursued Mr. Dolceamore and brought him to the ground. Four officers restrained and handcuffed him. AG Platkin said video recordings from the body-worn cameras captured this encounter.
According to AG Platkin, during the encounter, Mr. Dolceamore became unresponsive.
Police officers and emergency medical personnel attempted to provide medical assistance to Mr. Dolceamore, and he was transported to St. Francis Medical Center, where he was pronounced deceased at 12:40 p.m.
An autopsy was performed, and the medical examiner concluded the manner of death was a homicide, and the cause of death was "methamphetamine intoxication with physical restraint and chest-wall restriction."
The toxicology results showed toxic to lethal ranges of methamphetamine and Buprenorphine, a synthetic opioid, in his system at the time of death.
A finding of "homicide" by the medical examiner indicates that another person or persons contributed to the death. AG Platkin said it did not establish criminal liability or determine whether the actions of the other persons were legally justified.
A 2019 law, P.L. 2019, c. 1, requires the Attorney General's Office to conduct investigations of a person's death during an encounter with a law enforcement officer acting in the officer's official capacity or while the decedent is in custody.
AG Platkin 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.
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 measures are taken based on the results of the review.