SPARTA - An off-duty state trooper fired shots at a car with three young men inside as they were trying to drive away from his house after knocking on his door by mistake at night while looking for the house of a friend who lives next door, officials said.
The trooper told investigators he suspected the three men were trying to enter his Sparta home, between 1:30 a.m. and 2 a.m. Sunday, the attorney general's office said.
The trooper remains on active duty, office spokesman Peter Aseltine said. No criminal charges have been filed, and the shooting remains under investigation. No one was injured in the shooting.
Jesse Barkhorn, 18, was in the car that night and said on Wednesday that they attended a party earlier and were dropping off one of them at a friend's house. He said they mistakenly knocked on the door at the house next to their friend's house. He said they heard a man screaming from inside and they ran back to the car.
They turned around in the cul-de-sac where the home is located and saw the man standing with his weapon pointed at them, Barkhorn said.
"At this point we're freaking out, 'It's a gun. It's a gun,'" Barkhorn said. "I was like, 'Dude, get out of here.'"
He said the driver accelerated and the man then fired at them. One of the bullets struck the car's front tire and the driver stopped the car a short distance away.
According to officials, who didn't release the names of those involved, two 18-year-olds and a 19-year-old went to the wrong house, knocked on the door and fled after a verbal exchange. They got in their car and drove away, and the trooper fired three shots with his personal weapon when the car did not stop, officials said.
Investigators said the officer, who joined the forced in 2009, identified himself as a police officer when he began chasing after them. Barkhorn said the windows of the car were closed and he did not hear that.
The attorney general's use-of-force policy says that "firearms are not generally effective in bringing moving vehicles to a rapid halt" and that officers should not fire at a car unless they reasonably believe that "there exists an imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm to the officer or another person" and that there's no other way to eliminate the danger.
Barkhorn said that after they stopped the car, one of the men fled. The man was found by officers hours later.
Barkhorn said all three were taken to the Sparta police department and then to state police barracks in Netcong. He said he remained in custody for more than nine hours before being released without being charged.
"It was traumatic. I really have never been in a situation like that," Barkhorn said. "You don't really appreciate things until you have a gun pointed at your head. It was really scary."