An investigation conducted by the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office’s Major Crimes Unit in conjunction with the Special Investigations and Crime Scene Units to ensure that no member of the leadership team of the Prosecutor’s Office or person assigned to participate in the use-of-force investigation had any personal or professional interaction with or relation to the principals of the investigation.
The investigation, which was reviewed by Burlington County Prosecutor Robert D. Bernardi, revealed that on September 30, 2014 at approximately 3:04 a.m. an off-duty Delanco municipal police officer arrived at a home he was renting located in a residential area in Edgewater Park Township. The officer had just completed working his shift, was dressed in his full police uniform, and was armed with his duty weapon.
The officer went briefly inside the residence to check something and left his Chevrolet Avalanche running in the driveway with the keys in the ignition. The officer heard the sound of a door shutting and exited the front door of the home. The officer observed his vehicle backing down the driveway towards the street in an erratic manner.
The officer advised that he was unable to see who was operating the vehicle. The officer was also unable to discern the number of people inside the vehicle or whether anyone inside was armed. The officer issued repeated loud verbal commands to the occupant(s) of the vehicle to stop.
The investigation revealed that the occupant(s) in the vehicle never responded to the officer’s commands. Instead, the vehicle continued to back out of the driveway and took a wide looping path as it turned onto the street. The officer followed the Avalanche as it backed out of the driveway and took up a position near the rear driver’s side of the vehicle consistent with his training. According to the officer, the vehicle moved forward and then stopped.
The officer thought that the occupant(s) in the vehicle were going to exit. The officer then heard the engine of the vehicle “rev,” and it lurched back towards him. The officer indicated that he believed that the driver of the vehicle was going to run him over. In an effort to protect himself from the perceived threat, the officer drew his duty weapon and discharged it five times at the vehicle. Two of the bullets perforated the rear driver side window and front driver’s seat of the vehicle prior to striking the driver, later identified as Tysean Fitzpatrick, 27, of Willingboro.
The damaged rear driver’s side window subsequently fell onto the street and Mr. Fitzpatrick was able to drive approximately 100 yards before coming to a stop. The officer approached the vehicle and was now able to see that Mr. Fitzpatrick was the only person inside. The officer ordered Mr. Fitzpatrick to place the vehicle in park and exit the vehicle. The officer then rendered emergency aid to Mr. Fitzpatrick, who survived the shooting. The investigation of this incident included not only the interview of witnesses, but also a crime scene reconstruction that was based upon physical evidence located at the scene and a forensic examination of evidence recovered in connection with this incident and the Chevrolet Avalanche operated by Mr. Fitzpatrick.
On July 28, 2015, a Burlington County grand jury determined that the officer acted lawfully under the New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice and voted to “no bill” this matter with regard to the officer’s use of deadly force which resulted in injury to Mr. Fitzpatrick.
In accordance with Attorney General Law Enforcement Directive No. 2006-5, the underlying attempted theft of the officer’s vehicle by Mr. Fitzpatrick was presented to a different grand jury than the grand jury that decided that the officer’s use of force was lawful.
On October 1, 2015, a separate Burlington County grand jury returned a one count indictment charging Mr. Fitzpatrick with third degree attempted theft of the officer’s Chevrolet Avalanche. Prosecutor Bernardi has reviewed this entire matter, and all portions of the Attorney General’s Law Enforcement Directive regarding uniform statewide procedures and best practices for conducting police use of force investigations in effect during the course of this investigation were complied with.