A New Jersey State Police trooper was justified in shooting and killing a driver who rammed his pickup truck into two police vehicles and then tried to run him over, a grand jury found.
Christopher Pizzichetta, 46, of Lewes, Delaware, was sitting in his pickup truck at the north end of the Molly Pitcher Service Area in Cranbury last March 30 when plainclothes State Police officers investigating drugs and other crimes at the NJ Turnpike rest stop approached in an unmarked SUV, state Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal said.
Other troopers in an unmarked black pickup truck positioned their vehicle in front of Pizzichetta's, but he "accelerated in reverse and drove away," then parked in a remote area at the lots' south end, the attorney general said.
Three troopers in the SUV parked behind Pizzichetta, then got out to talk to him.The first trooper "knocked on the window, displaying his credentials and identifying himself as 'State Police,'” and noticed "what appeared to be glassine bags of heroin in the truck," Grewal said.
The trooper ordered Pizzichetta to stop but he put the truck in reverse again, nearly hitting the other two troopers, he said.
The troopers in the pickup truck activated their lights and siren and pursued the fleeing truck.
Meanwhile, the two troopers who were nearly struck got into the SUV and joined in.
The first trooper remained standing in the lot.
As Pizzichetta tried to flee, his truck struck the SUV head-on, the grand jury found.
He then reversed, hitting the State Police pickup, Grewal said.
Pizzichetta continued toward the exit road -- but instead of driving to the ramp jumped a curb and cut across a concrete raised island where the trooper was standing, grand jurors found, the attorney general said.
He then "drove directly" at the trooper, who fired six shots from his service gun, hitting the windshield of the pickup and striking Pizzichetta in the chest, shoulder and head, Grewal said, citing the accounts of two civilian witnesses and all four of the other state troopers.
The pickup continued a short distance across the exit road at high speed and crashed into a concrete retaining wall.
Troopers called emergency medical personnel, and a medical examiner pronounced Pizzichetta dead at the scene.
A syringe and empty glassine bags were found in Pizzichetta’s pickup truck, along with other glassines containing heroin, the grand jury found.
All five troopers -- including two who sustained minor injuries -- were taken to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick for evaluation.
Grand jurors, after examining the facts, returned a “no true bill,” meaning it declined to indict the state trooper who shot Pizzichetta.
"After considering the facts, evidence and testimony from the investigation by the Attorney General’s Shooting Response Team, the state grand jury voted not to return an indictment," Grewal said.
"An officer may use deadly force in New Jersey when the officer reasonably believes it is immediately necessary to protect the officer or another person from imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm," he added.
In New Jersey, all investigations into police deadly force incidents are governed by an Attorney General directive – issued in 2006 and strengthened in 2015 – which establishes strict procedures for conducting those investigations. When a state- or county-level officer uses deadly force, the case is investigated by the Attorney General’s Shooting Response Team, made up of deputy attorneys general and detectives of the Division of Criminal Justice, as well as detectives of the State Police Homicide Unit, all of whom operate independently of their usual chain of command and report directly to the Director of the Division of Criminal Justice or a designee.
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