By: Richard L. Smith
A state grand jury has reached a decision not to file criminal charges in connection with the tragic deaths of Gregory Dukes, 42, and Cecil Richardson, 47, both residents of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The two men lost their lives in a fatal vehicle crash that occurred on May 10, 2022, following an attempted motor vehicle stop and pursuit by the Montclair Police. New Jersey Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin made this announcement, marking the culmination of a thorough investigation.
The investigation into the deaths of Mr. Dukes and Mr. Richardson was conducted by the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA) and presented to a state grand jury, adhering to the Independent Prosecutor Directive of 2019.
As part of its commitment to transparency and impartiality, OPIA issued standard operating procedures (SOPs) in July 2021 to ensure that grand jury presentations are conducted objectively and with appropriate transparency.
The investigation encompassed a comprehensive range of evidence, including witness interviews, photographs, body-worn and dashboard camera footage reviews, and autopsy results from the medical examiner.
Crucially, video footage of the incident was presented to the state grand jury.
Following careful deliberation, the grand jury concluded its review on Monday, September 18, 2023, voting "no bill."
This decision signifies that the grand jury did not find sufficient evidence to recommend criminal charges against Officer Michael Kupchak of the Montclair Police Department, who had initiated the attempted motor vehicle stop.
The tragic collision occurred shortly after 4:30 a.m. on Bloomfield Avenue in the area of Ridgewood Avenue in Glen Ridge.
Officer Kupchak had activated the overhead emergency lights on his marked patrol vehicle in an attempt to stop a vehicle driven by Mr. Dukes, who was believed to be connected to a robbery investigation.
Officer Brandon Taylor was also involved in the pursuit. Mr. Dukes' vehicle proceeded eastbound on Bloomfield Avenue, reaching speeds over 65 mph.
Approximately 20 seconds later, as Mr. Dukes' vehicle continued to accelerate, Officer Kupchak began to slow down to terminate the pursuit, given the distance between his patrol vehicle and the suspect's car.
About 40 seconds after the initial attempt to stop the vehicle, and without making contact with another car, Mr. Dukes lost control of his vehicle, veering off the road and striking a tree.
The total distance of the pursuit was approximately 0.2 miles.
Tragically, both Mr. Dukes and Mr. Richardson were pronounced deceased at the scene.
Officers Kupchak and Taylor, upon exiting their police vehicles, discovered Todd Hill, a third occupant of the crashed car.
Additional officers arrived at the scene and provided assistance. Subsequently, Mr. Hill was transported to University Hospital in Newark for treatment.
It's worth noting that Mr. Hill was arrested and subsequently indicted by an Essex County grand jury on multiple robbery and weapon charges linked to this incident.
He is currently awaiting trial on these charges, which are being prosecuted by the Essex County Prosecutor's Office.
In accordance with a 2019 law, the Attorney General's Office is mandated to investigate any death that occurs during an encounter with a law enforcement officer acting in their official capacity or while the decedent is in custody.
These investigations are presented to a grand jury to determine if any criminal charges should be brought against the officers involved.
The grand jury is provided with instructions on potential criminal offenses, including criminal homicide charges, self-defense, and other forms of legal justification.
A conflicts check conducted in accordance with the Independent Prosecutor Directive found no actual or potential conflict of interest involving any individuals assigned to the investigation.
Prior to presentation to the grand jury, OPIA Executive Director Thomas Eicher reviewed the investigation, ensuring adherence to the established policies and procedures outlined in the SOPs.
Upon concluding these investigations, following the Directive and SOPs, OPIA determines if any officers should be referred to the relevant law enforcement agency for administrative review in accordance with the AG's Internal Affairs Policy & Procedures.
OPIA oversees the ensuing review process and takes necessary actions to ensure timely completion and appropriate measures based on the review's results.