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Officers Not Criminally Charged in Death of 15-Year-Old in Custody in Camden

By kbm0423 on
Camden

A state grand jury has voted not to file any criminal charges at the conclusion of its deliberations regarding the death of “D.F.,” 15, of Pennsauken, who died while in the custody of the Camden County Juvenile Detention Facility (CCJDF) on April 14, 2019.

The death in custody was investigated by the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA) and presented to New Jersey residents called to serve on the grand jury in accordance with Directive 2019-4, the “Independent Prosecutor Directive” issued in 2019. 

In July 2021, OPIA issued standard operating procedures (“SOPs”) to ensure that these grand jury presentations are conducted in a neutral, objective manner and with appropriate transparency regarding the process, consistent with the Independent Prosecutor Directive.

The investigation of this death in custody included interviews of witnesses, a review of video footage and autopsy results from the medical examiner. 

After hearing testimony and evidence from the investigation, the grand jury concluded its deliberations on August 15 and voted “no bill,” meaning the grand jury concluded that no criminal charges should be filed against the officers in connection with this death in custody.

According to the investigation, at approximately 9:30 a.m. on the morning of April 14, 2019, Camden County Juvenile Detention Facility (CCJDF) Corrections Officer Damien Velez found 15-year-old resident “D.F” unresponsive when trying to wake him for breakfast. 

He had had no physical interaction with other residents or staff during the overnight hours while he was asleep in his cell. 

Staff provided medical aid, and paramedics arrived at or around 9:51 a.m. After conferring with a doctor from Virtua Voorhees Hospital, he was pronounced deceased at 10:03 a.m.

An autopsy was performed, and the Medical Examiner concluded that the cause of death was amphetamine and heroin intoxication and the manner of death was an accident. 

How “D.F.” came to possess illegal narcotics in a custodial setting was the subject of an investigation by the Attorney General’s Division of Criminal Justice and the New Jersey State Police, but it did not lead to criminal charges.

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.