LAWRENCE — As part of an ongoing outreach effort on the hot button issue of police-involved shootings, the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office presented the state’s uniform investigative procedures.
Acting Mercer County Prosecutor Angelo Onofri presented the policies as well as members of the investigative team to the Township Council and members of the public Tuesday.
“The time to introduce the legal as well as investigative staff really isn’t when an incident occurs and that’s part of the reason why we’re trying to come out now so you can meet us, see who we are and so we can go through the process with you,” Mr. Onofri said.
Among the most significant recent changes in state procedures include prosecutorial discretion on whether cases of police-involved shootings go to the grand jury. While county prosecutors are required to present such cases to the grand jury, they can decline to do so if the “undisputed facts” of the case show the shooting was justified under the law, Mr. Onofri said.
The prime example presented was the Aug. 15, 2013, fatal police shooting of Eric McNeil in Trenton. In that case, prosecutors said Mr. McNeil fired upon detectives transporting a domestic violence victim he had allegedly assaulted.
The two detectives were struck by gunfire, though one was able to return fire and ultimately killed Mr. McNeil, according to authorities. Mr. Onofri said one detective suffered a gunshot wound to the shoulder while the other suffered more severe wounds and was in a medically induced coma for approximately six weeks.
Mr. Onofri said the investigation revealed the shooting definitively met two legal justifications — self-defense and defense of others — as well as potentially a third, the use of force in law enforcement.
He also outlined other recent directives from the state Attorney General’s Office and core principles that involve addressing independent review and investigation — the county’s Homicide Task Force conducts such investigations, not the involved municipal police department, exploring potential conflicts of interests and further outreach and study.
Mr. Onofri noted a supplemental directive for the Attorney General’s Office was a collaborative effort that included multiple law enforcement agencies and community organizations including the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, the Latino Leadership Alliance and the NAACP. �