The shooting of an unarmed motorist by Bloomfield police will be investigated by a grand jury, the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office said in a letter to the motorist’s attorney.
The announcement comes after a Kane In Your Corner investigation raised doubts about whether police were telling the truth about the shooting of Jeffery Sutton. And a new Kane In Your Corner investigation reveals the police repeatedly changed their story.
Sutton was shot and wounded after a traffic stop last November. He was wanted for armed robbery. Police said in an attempt to escape, he ran into several officers with his car, leaving them injured. But cellphone video obtained by Kane in Your Corner indicated Sutton did not make contact with any of the officers.
“He was simply trying to save his own life,” his mother, Raquella Sutton, says.
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It didn’t take long for police to start changing their story. Hours after the incident, six Bloomfield police officers reported being injured, police logs show. But police only charged Sutton with assaulting four of them, and said he’d only struck two. Bloomfield Public Safety Director Samuel DeMaio now admits no officers were hit.
“There were no injuries received from being struck by the vehicle,” DeMaio emailed Kane In Your Corner. “They went to the hospital and were treated for stress-related issues.”
This is a dramatic departure from what Bloomfield police initially said. The criminal complaint makes nine references to Sutton hitting officers. It says the officers sustained “hand injuries” when Sutton put his car in reverse and hit them.
“The discrepancy… causes me some serious concern,” says C.J. Griffin, an attorney with Pashman Stein Walder Hayden who specializes in civil liberties and open government issues. “We need accountability, we need answers, we need clarity, we need as much transparency as possible.”
Those answers won’t be coming from Bloomfield police. “I would defer these questions to the ECPO, who is in the process of conducting the ongoing investigation,” DeMaio writes.
Bloomfield police still insist the shooting of Sutton was justified. They say Capt. Gary Peters and Officer Raymond Diaz fired after Sutton accelerated toward Peters. But video shows Peters actually walked to Sutton’s driver’s side window before discharging his weapon, leaving no officers in the path of the car.
“As he's driving off, that's when the shots go off,” says civil rights attorney Michael Poreda, who has agreed to represent Sutton. “Nobody's life was in danger at that point.”
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Text and reporting by Walt Kane.