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No grand jury in Leonia police shooting, Bergen prosecutor says

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot File Photo

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST (1:40 p.m.): Rickey McFadden was wielding a cheap steak knife with a 7-inch blade that he refused to drop as he charged at a police officer when he was shot and killed on a Leonia street, Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli said today, in declining to present the case to a state grand jury for review. “I do believe this was a justified shooting,” the prosecutor said.

The state Attorney General can agree with his Leonia decision, disagree with it, or send it back for further investigation.

During an early afternoon news conference, Molinelli displayed aerial views of the crime scene, photographs of the knife the suspect was carrying and evidence including cash and cigarettes, as well as a schematic of the neighborhood with the locations of police officers and the suspect.

He also produced a two-dimensional “Leica” film of the scene.

In precise detail, Molinelli explained the procedures police officers are mandated to follow, and why the shooting of Ricky McFadden was unavoidable.

“I am quoting here from statutory language, so bear with me,” the prosecutor said.  “When the actor reasonably believes such force is necessary to protect himself or others from injury, that is the justification under the statute for the use of police force.

“McFadden was charging directly at Officer [Christopher] Sotto at the time of the shooting,” he said.  “The officers were acting to protect themselves.”

Three of the four officers at the scene fired.  A fourth, from Palisades Park, refrained because the other officers were in his line of fire.

Before the shooting, Leonia Officer Scott Tamagny tried to use his familiarity with McFadden to defuse the situation, Molinelli said.

“He called him by name, and attempted to calm him down,” the prosecutor said.

It didn’t work.

McFadden threatened to kill the officers before charging with the knife, a plastic-handled steel knife with a heavily serrated edge — the kind found in discount stores.

Molinelli also showed the surveillance video from the CVS store.

In it, McFadden directs the store manager behind the counter to the cash register, holding the knife.  A clerk at an adjacent register turned and saw the knife, then finished checking out his customer.  After, Molinelli said, he left the register area and called police.

“That was the first 911 call,” Molinelli said.

Tamagny is a 19-year veteran of the Leonia police force. Sotto and Lee, of Palisade Park, were in town already answering another call when the dispatcher notified them of the crime in progress. They have 8 and 12 years of service, respectively.

There were 16 shots fired, Molinelli said. Ten of them struck McFadden. His autopsy is waiting for toxicology results to be completed.

Asked if officers should have taken McFadden’s mental condition into consideration, Molinelli responded: “It does not matter when there is a threat. There was both visual and verbal indication he intended to kill them.

“ I cannot offer a medical diagnosis,” he said. “A lot of people have mental illness.  You can’t let anyone go who has a weapon.”

Molinelli opened the press conference with a statement of profound regret over today’s school shooting in Connecticut.

“It’s a terrible thing,” he said.  “As a parent myself, I can barely comprehend such a crime.”

He went on to commend a teacher who moved children to safety saying, “We ask so much of our teachers these days, besides just teaching.”

CLIFFVIEW PILOT was the first to report exclusively that officers from Palisades Park and Leonia weren’t the only ones shouting at McFadden to drop the knife two blocks from the drug store he had just robbed of $1,750: Both a man and woman who witnessed what became a fatal encounter did so, as well ( SEE: Civilians urged Leonia robbery suspect to drop knife before shooting ).

Both were among no fewer than four civilians who have given similar eyewitness accounts of the broad-daylight events, a law enforcement source with direct knowledge of the incident told CLIFFVIEW PILOT . All of them agreed the officers were clearly defending themselves and protecting the public from a serious threat, the website reported.

Moments earlier, McFadden held up the manager of the CVS on Broad Avenue, fleeing with the cash that was later found in his pockets, CLIFFVIEW PILOT has learned.

It is the prosecutor’s responsibility to determine, in counsel with his staff, whether to present such cases to a grand jury or to tell the attorney general that he is satisfied that everything was done by the book.

The grand jury, if given the case, would have decided whether criminal charges were warranted, or whether to issue a “no bill” clearing the officers of any wrongdoing.

The prosecutor’s review include the results of an autopsy conducted after the shooting.

McFadden’s family earlier this month filed a notice of intent to sue the Palisades Park and Leonia police departments, among others, for wrongful death.

McFadden, who was once pepper-sprayed by Englewood police after he become combative after a traffic accident, had a history of emotional trouble.

He had just turned the corner after pulling a knife on a clerk at the Broad Avenue CVS on Nov. 25 when a Leonia police officer arrived and ordered him to drop the weapon, witnesses said.

McFadden kept walking, however.

Moments later, three Palisades Park police officers arrived, backing up their colleague.

Despite their attempts to keep McFadden from hurting anyone, the situation escalated over the course of another block, witnesses said.

At the intersection of Hillside and Kingsley avenues, the officers drew closer to McFadden, 47. It was just after 4:30 — still daylight.

The Leonia officer pepper-sprayed him, but McFadden kept coming, knife in hand, despite the entreaties of both police and civilians, witnesses said.

Two of the Palisades Park officers and the Leonia officer then discharged their weapons.

McFadden, who lived with his parents on Grand Avenue in Leonia, fell on his back, arms outstretched. He was taken to Hackensack University Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead sometime later.

Among the items recovered at the scene was the knife, the empty pepper-spray cannister and items reported taken from the CVS.

RELATED:
Robbery suspect with knife shot dead in confrontation with police in Leonia
Prosecutor identifies Leonia robbery suspect shot dead by police

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