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Officers Involved in Fatal Police Encounter on I-80 in Montville Not Criminally Charged

By rlsmetro on
Montville

A state grand jury has voted not to file any criminal charges at the conclusion of its deliberations regarding the death of Kevin Cruz, 25, of Black River, N.Y., who was struck by a tractor-trailer and killed during an encounter with the Montville Police Department on I-80 on August 22, 2019.   The fatal police encounter was investigated by the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA) and presented to 16 to 23 New Jersey residents called to serve on the grand jury in accordance with Directive 2019-4, the “Independent Prosecutor Directive,” issued by Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal in 2019. 

The investigation included interviews of witnesses; review of footage from mobile video recorders in police vehicles; and autopsy results from the medical examiner. 

After hearing testimony and evidence from the investigation, the grand jury concluded its deliberations on Monday, August 2, and voted “no bill,” meaning a majority of grand jurors found the actions of the officers who encountered Mr. Cruz were not the cause of his death and no charges should be filed against them.   According to the investigation, an officer of the Montville Police Department stopped the car driven by Mr. Cruz at approximately 2:20 a.m. on August 22, 2019, on the westbound side of I-80. 

The investigation found that during the stop, that officer, Lt. Christopher Keezer, asked Mr. Cruz to exit his vehicle. Lt. Keezer was assisted by two officers who arrived on the scene separately: Officers Samuel Greendyk and Daniel Casillo. 

According to the investigation, during the interaction with the officers, Mr. Cruz ran into the roadway and was struck by a tractor-trailer. The driver of the tractor-trailer immediately stopped the truck. Mr. Cruz was pronounced dead at the scene.   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.   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.