A state grand jury has voted not to file any criminal charges at the conclusion of its deliberations regarding the death of Amir Johnson, 30, of Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, who died when three officers of the Ventnor Police Department fired their service weapons at Mr. Johnson on August 6, 2020, in Ventnor, N.J.
The Attorney General’s Office previously released the identities of the police officers who fired at Mr. Johnson.
They are Officers Michael Arena, Pierluigi Mancuso and Robert Scarborough of the Ventnor Police Department.
The fatal police encounter was investigated by the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA) and presented to New Jersey residents called to serve on the grand jury in accordance with 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 of this fatal police encounter included interviews of witnesses, collection of forensic evidence, review of video footage, and autopsy results from the medical examiner.
After hearing testimony and evidence from the investigation, the grand jury concluded its deliberations yesterday, June 27, 2022, and voted “no bill,” meaning the grand jury determined that the actions of the officers who shot at Mr. Johnson should not result in charges against them.
According to the investigation, at approximately 4:15 p.m. on August 6, 2020, the Ventnor and Atlantic City Police Departments responded to a 911 call concerning a man behaving erratically in the vicinity of Wellington Avenue and West End Avenue.
When the responding officers encountered the man, later identified as Amir Johnson, he was walking in and out of a marshy area along the roadway while holding a broken glass bottle in his hand.
Mr. Johnson had self-inflicted lacerations on his arms and neck, and was bleeding from his neck. The officers engaged with Mr. Johnson and offered him assistance, but he refused their efforts and failed to comply with their commands, including repeated requests for him to drop the bottle.
Instead, he continued to walk back and forth on the roadway, where officers had stopped traffic for safety reasons. Officers continued to speak with Mr. Johnson, who was threatening to inflict additional self-harm, for several minutes.
One officer was armed with a taser and attempted to deploy it, however, this was unsuccessful.
At approximately 4:30 p.m., Mr. Johnson was in close proximity to a vehicle occupied by civilians when he rapidly advanced at officers with the broken bottle in his hand.
Three officers fired their weapons, fatally wounding him. He was rushed by ambulance to AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, Atlantic City Campus, where he was pronounced deceased at approximately 6:00 p.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.
After considering the evidence, testimony from the OPIA investigation, and instructions on the legal standards, including whether the officer’s actions were legally justified, the state grand jury determined that no criminal charges should be brought against the officers.
An officer may use deadly force in New Jersey when the officer reasonably believes it is immediately necessary to protect the officer or another person from imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm.
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.
The Independent Prosecutor Directive is posted on the Attorney General’s website at this link: https://www.nj.gov/oag/dcj/agguide/directives/ag-Directive-2019-4.pdf