Morris County Prosecutor Fredric M. Knapp announces that on August 16, 2016, a Morris County Grand Jury voted not to file criminal charges against Patrolman Jorge Reyes of the Butler Police Department related to an officer-involved shooting that occurred on March 31, 2016 in Butler.
During this incident, Dylan Howard, 23, with a last known address in Butler, was shot multiple times by Patrolman Reyes. Howard was in possession of a single shot shotgun at the time of this shooting.
On March 31, 2016, at approximately 3:46 p.m., Patrolman Jorge Reyes of the Butler Police Department responded to the area of the Noah’s Arc School and Gleaners Thrift Shop at the Methodist Church located on Bartholdi Avenue in Butler, on a report of a theft. Upon arrival, Patrolman Reyes met with the alleged victim, who indicated her purse, and other items, were missing from her car.
The victim indicated that after discovery the items missing from her car, she was approached by a male, later identified as Dylan Howard. At that time, Howard produced the purse and returned it to her. He also asked her not to call the police. Howard advised the victim that the purse had been taken to a closet at the thrift shop. At this time, Howard began walking away from the scene.
Patrolman Jorge Reyes had arrived on scene as Howard was walking in the direction of a nearby playground. Patrolman Reyes spoke to the victim, during which time Howard began to walk at a faster pace in the direction of a nearby street, Carey Avenue.
Patrolman Reyes attempted to follow Howard, at which time he began to run away from the scene down Carey Avenue and towards Boonton Avenue, at which point Patrolman Reyes then lost sight of him.
Patrolman Reyes was familiar with Howard. He was aware that Howard had an active warrant for his arrest (related to a Violation of Probation for a failure to appear from the Morris County Superior Court). Howard was also known to law enforcement from previous encounters, including several past arrests. Howard also had charges pending against him related to several unrelated thefts. Howard was known to reside at times at his grandparents’ home located at 3 Belleview Terrace in Butler.
Upon entry into the thrift shop, Patrolman Reyes observed a closet with pry marks to the lock/door jam as if it had been broken into. The Morris County Sheriff’s Office – Criminal Investigation Section would later lift latent fingerprints from this location, which were determined to be a match to Dylan Howard.
Multiple law enforcement officers attempted to locate Howard. Butler Police Officers responded to 3 Belleview Terrace and spoke to Howard’s grandmother. She confirmed that Howard was at the thrift shop earlier. She also indicated that Howard made a comment to her that he just wanted to die because he could not continue the lifestyle he was living due to his drug addiction. Howard had asked his grandmother for money and she refused. The officers entered 3 Belleview Terrace, but did not locate Howard. At approximately 6:30 p.m., Butler police officers had concluded their search for Howard with negative results.
At approximately 7:10 p.m., two 911 calls came into the Butler Police Department reporting a suspicious person walking up West Belleview Avenue towards Belleview Terrace.
The callers reported a suspicious person walking in the area of 14 West Belleview Avenue. The person was described as wearing a scarf over their face, walking with a limp and carrying a cane and possibly a purse. The person was identified as a male despite being dressed as an elderly female. Both callers found the clothing suspicious due to the approximately 70 degree weather that day. It was reported that the person entered 3 Belleview Terrace.
Butler Police officers responded as a result of the 911 call, believing that the suspicious person was possibly Howard, making an attempt to get back to 3 Belleview Terrace. Those officers were Lt. Scott Ricker, Patrolman Jorge Reyes, Patrolman Kyle Fontanazza, and Patrolman Scott Sinopoli. The four officers responded to the area in three marked police vehicles. All of the officers were in uniform.
When the officers arrived in the area, dispatch relayed that one of the 911 callers indicated that the suspicious person had just entered the 3 Belleview Terrace. Upon arrival, Patrolmen Fontanazza and Sinopoli took positions outside of the residence in the event that Howard attempted to flee the residence out of a bedroom window, as he had done in the past.
The officers were aware that Howard was a known heroin user. Howard also had prior instances in which he had eluded officers, had resisted arrest and assaulted officers.
Lt. Ricker and Patrolman Reyes went to the rear of the residence, which they knew to be the primary entrance/exit of 3 Belleview Terrace. Upon arrival to the rear door, the officers could hear a commotion and several people yelling inside the home. Patrolman Reyes knocked on the door and announced his presence. The door was opened by Howard’s grandmother. Both Patrolman Reyes and Lt. Ricker entered the home, with Reyes in front of Ricker. Upon entering the kitchen, Patrolman Reyes observed Howard run from the dining room/living area toward the bedroom down the hallway. The officers chased Howard down the hallway.
As Howard fled from the officers, he was instructed to stop. As the officers reached the end of the hallway, Howard attempted to close the bedroom door on the officers. Both officers pushed the door to prevent it from closing. The door opened and Patrolman Reyes stepped into the room, with Lt. Ricker behind him and just outside the bedroom. Patrolman Reyes observed Howard crouched down near the foot of the bed with his back turned to Reyes. Patrolman Reyes yelled to Howard to show his hands. Howard failed to comply. Patrolman Reyes shouted verbal commands again and Howard again failed to comply. At this time, Patrolman Reyes drew his weapon and again told Howard to show his hands. Howard then reached for an object near the bed area. Patrolman Reyes stated that Howard moved towards the head of the bed, turned, stood up and pointed what appeared to Reyes to be a long gun (rifle or shotgun) directly at Reyes. Howard was holding the long gun at waist level. Patrolman Reyes ordered Howard to drop the long gun and Howard did not comply. Howard then moved his hand towards the trigger area of the long gun while keeping it pointed at Reyes. It was at this time that Patrolman Reyes discharged his service weapon striking Howard. Patrolman Reyes discharged his weapon four (4) times. While discharging his weapon, Patrolman Reyes moved backwards towards Lt. Ricker, and had moved just outside of the bedroom. Patrolman Reyes stated that he stopped firing when the long gun was no longer pointed at him and Howard fell to the floor. The long gun fell to Howard’s side approximately 1-2 feet away from Howard’s body. Patrolman Reyes stated that he holstered his service weapon and approached Howard. He moved the long gun out of Howard’s reach and secured it by keeping it under his shin. Patrolman Reyes then immediately rendered medical attention to Howard and requested that a Medevac respond.
The officers put Howard onto his back on the floor to render aid. He was wearing what appeared to be a white sweat shirt or sweater, a T-shirt, white sparkly gloves, and gray sweat pants over top of jeans. Howard had multiple gunshot wounds to his chest and abdomen. He was subsequently flown to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Paterson for treatment.
The shotgun possessed by Howard was secured by law enforcement. Examination of the shotgun showed that it was cocked and in the ready firing position. Law enforcement de-cocked the gun and opened the breach, rendering the weapon safe. At this time, it was learned that the shotgun was loaded.
During a subsequent search of 3 Belleview Terrace, investigators collected various items of evidence, to include four (4) shell casings from Patrolman Reyes’ service weapon, bullet fragments, a projectile, clothing consistent with the descriptions provided by the 911 callers, multiple syringes, and nine (9) shotgun shells from the pocket of the shirt top that was worn by Howard at the time of the incident.
Subsequent testing of the shotgun possessed by Howard was conducted by the Ballistics Unit of the New Jersey State Police. It was determined that the shotgun was a 12 gauge single barrel shotgun. The shotgun was test fired and determined to be operable and capable of being discharged.
On April 9, 2016, the Butler Police Department was contacted by a local resident reporting a possible burglary to 14 West Belleview Avenue. 14 West Belleview Avenue is located in close proximity to 3 Belleview Terrace, and is the area where the 911 callers first reported seeing the suspicious person dressed as an elderly female on March 31, 2016.
Butler Police responded to the location and entered the residence and ultimately observed various identification cards in the name of Dylan Howard within the home. A subsequent search conducted by the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office and Morris County Sheriff’s Office revealed numerous items of evidential value, to include twelve (12) 12 gauge shotgun shells.
The owner of 14 West Belleview Avenue was interviewed and confirmed that the home was vacant, and had been, since 2010. The owner confirmed that various items within the home had been moved and that various unknown articles of men’s clothing were in the home. The owner would later identify the articles of clothing worn by Howard on March 31, 2016 - and used as a disguise – as those of the owner’s deceased mother.
The various shotgun shells recovered during this investigation were also examined and determined to be identical. Those shells include the one (1) shell extracted from the shotgun possessed by Howard during the shooting incident, the nine (9) shotgun shells recovered from Howard’s shirt top during the shooting incident, and the twelve (12) shotgun shells collected from 14 West Belleview Avenue.
Dylan Howard was charged with various crimes related to this incident and investigation. With regards to the incident earlier on the day of March 31, 2016 at the thrift store, Howard has been charged with Burglary, a crime of the third degree in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C: 18-2, and Theft, a crime of the fourth degree in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C: 20-3. With regard to the shooting incident on March 31, 2016, Howard has been charged with Possession of a Weapon for an Unlawful Purpose, a crime of the second degree in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4a; Certain Persons Not to Have Weapons, a crime of the second degree in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:39-7b; Aggravated Assault by Pointing a Firearm at a Law Enforcement Officer, a crime of the third degree in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1b9, and Possession of Drug Paraphernalia, a disorderly persons offense in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:39-2. With regard to the incident at 14 West Belleview Avenue, Howard has been charged with Burglary, a crime of the third degree in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:18-2; Theft, a crime of the third degree in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:20-3/2C: 20-2b2b; and Theft, a crime of the fourth degree in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C: 20-3. The charges and allegations against Dylan Howard are merely accusations, and he is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
At the completion of the presentation to the Morris County Grand Jury, the panel voted not to indict Patrolman Jorge Reyes based upon their consideration of the facts, evidence and testimony from the investigation.
The Morris County Grand Jury was instructed as to potential criminal charges against Patrolman Reyes and the legal elements to prove each crime, as well as the law of justification, particularly the use of force in defense of self and others. 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.