By: Yuritza Arroyo
Authorities in Mercer County announced that a state grand jury has voted to file a criminal charge against a Trenton police officer in connection with the officer’s use of pepper spray during an encounter with Joseph Ahr Sr., who died weeks after being pepper sprayed during his arrest in 2020.
According to officials, officer Nicholas Piotrowski was indicted on one count of official misconduct.
Officials say the grand jury decided that the charge should be filed relating to the force that Officer Piotrowski used during the arrest of Joseph Ahr Sr., 64, of Trenton.
The grand jury did not return charges directly related to the death of Mr. Ahr, who was hospitalized and later died following that arrest on July 6, 2020.
“Police officers are required to be measured in their use of force in every encounter, even under challenging conditions,” said Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin.
“In New Jersey, we take this obligation seriously, and my office thoroughly and independently investigates and presents to a grand jury every death that occurs during an encounter with law enforcement.
This officer resorted to using pepper spray during a confrontation with a civilian in a manner that was unnecessary and contrary to his training, mishandling a situation that could have concluded so much differently.”
“Under the law and the Attorney General’s Use of Force Policy, officers are permitted to use only force which is reasonable and necessary,” said Thomas J. Eicher, Executive Director of OPIA.
“The grand jury found that Officer Piotrowski should be indicted for official misconduct because his force did not meet that basic standard.”
After hearing testimony and evidence from the investigation, the grand jury concluded its deliberations on Tuesday, January 3, 2023, and voted “true bill,” meaning the grand jury determined this criminal charge against the officer was warranted.
According to Trenton Police, officers responded to Mr. Ahr’s home in the 700 block of Monmouth Street around 5:30 p.m. on July 6, 2020, after police received a call from Mr. Ahr’s son.
Police say officers arrived and spoke to the son, who answered the front door. Joseph Ahr Sr. then came to the door to talk to the officers.
After the son entered the house, Mr. Ahr remained on the porch and verbally disputed with the officers.
Authorities say officers tried to detain Mr. Ahr, and he pulled away. Officers then took Mr. Ahr to the ground, restrained him, and handcuffed him.
During the encounter, Officer Piotrowski struck Mr. Ahr, Sr., and deployed pepper spray at close range directly in his face on multiple occasions.
According to the investigation, while the officers were handcuffing Mr. Ahr, he stated several times that he could not breathe.
After sitting up, Mr. Ahr complained about other medical issues, and officers summoned emergency medical personnel.
Officials say EMS personnel responded to the scene, examined Mr. Ahr, treated him with oxygen, and transported him to Capital Health Regional Medical Center in Trenton.
Mr. Ahr was admitted to the hospital, where he died 18 days later on July 24, 2020.
The medical examiner concluded that the manner of death was a homicide, with the cause of death listed as “acute respiratory failure following the use of pepper spray during the arrest of an individual with chronic pulmonary disease and COVID-19.”
If convicted, Officer Piotrowski could face up to 10 years in prison.