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NJ Grand Jury Declines to Criminally Charge Officer in Fatal Shooting

Middlesex County

By: Najla Alexander 

NJ authorities announced that a state grand jury has voted not to file any criminal charges at the conclusion of its deliberations regarding the death of Luke Mendez, 26, of Laurence Harbor, who was fatally shot by an officer from the Old Bridge Police Department on April 24, 2023.AdAccording to officials, Mr. Mendez's death 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 of 2019.

In July 2021, officials stated that 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.

Officials say the investigation included witness interviews, photographs, a review of video and audio recordings, and the medical examiner's autopsy results.

This evidence, including video of the incident, was presented to a state grand jury, officials said.

Authorities say after hearing the testimony and evidence, the grand jury concluded its deliberations on April 8, 2024, and voted “no bill,” meaning jurors concluded no criminal charges should be filed against Officer Christopher Hammel of the Old Bridge Police Department.

According to the investigation, on April 24, 2023, at approximately 3:09 p.m., Officer Hammel responded to a 911 call regarding a dispute at a residence on Woodland Avenue in the Laurence Harbor section of Old Bridge.AdWhile there, officials said, Officer Hammel encountered Mr. Mendez, who appeared at the top of an interior staircase holding a knife.

Officer Hammel instructed Mendez to put the knife down. When Mr. Mendez refused to drop it, Officer Hammel drew his service weapon, officials stated.

According to officials, a short time later, Mr. Mendez rapidly descended the staircase while still holding the knife, and Officer Hammel fired his service weapon, striking Mendez.

Officials say he was transported to Old Bridge Medical Center and was later pronounced deceased at 4:47 p.m.

Authorities say footage from a police body-worn camera and audio from a 911 call related to the shooting were previously released.