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Officers had ‘no choice’ but to shoot ex-con who rammed police cars in Rutherford, grand jury agrees

Photo Credit: NEWS 12
Photo Credit: Various sources
Photo Credit: NEWS 12
Photo Credit: Courtesy OCEAN COUNTY PROSECUTOR

THE FULL STORY: Two police officers had no choice but to shoot and kill an ex-con who came at them with a stolen SUV in Rutherford following a chase, state authorities said this afternoon in announcing that a grand jury voted not to file criminal charges against any of those involved.

The two officers were in danger of being killed by an SUV driven by Kashad Ashford after he crashed it on the Ridge Road overpass above Route 3 and hit the gas trying to escape the night of Sept. 15, 2014, acting New Jersey Attorney General John J. Hoffman said this afternoon.

One of the officers “believed he had no choice,” so he “fired three hollow-point rounds from his .40-caliber service handgun and saw the driver go lifeless,” the attorney general said. “The medical examiner and ballistics reports concluded that at least two of the shots fired by Officer 1 struck Ashford in the head.”

Kahad Ashford (MUGSHOTS: Various sources)

The second officer, who also had a .40-caliber, said both he and his colleague “shouted for the driver of the SUV to turn off the vehicle and show his hands,” Hoffman said.

“Immediately before he fired his gun,” the officer said, “the driver had his left hand on the steering wheel and was crouched down toward the center console like he was trying to grab something.”

Fearing that Ashford was reaching for a weapon, the officer “fired when the driver’s right shoulder came straight up in a quick movement like he might be raising a gun,” Hoffman said.

At least one of the rounds hit Ashford in the head, he said.

“After the shooting, a .357-caliber revolver loaded with six bullets was found in the SUV between the driver’s right hip and the center console,” Hoffman said.

Fellow ex-con Jemmaine T. Bynes was taken out of the SUV and immediately handcuffed. He was shot dead in Newark this past March 11 — a crime that remains unsolved.

Ashford went to state prison for four years when he was 19 — also following a chase. He was released from state custody in December 2013. He’d served more three years for aggravated assault, resisting arrest by fleeing in a motor vehicle — creating a risk of injury — and receiving stolen property.

The night of the incident, he was struck seven times — including four bullets to the head and a graze wound — and died hours later at Hackensack University Medical Center. An autopsy report indicated that he had marijuana and a designer drug commonly referred to as “bath salts” in his system.

No officers were injured.

Nearly 20 minutes earlier, Bynes tried to steal another vehicle in a Newell Place driveway in North Arlington, the attorney general said. The owner shouted from her window and dialed 911.

North Arlington police issued a BOLO (Be On LookOut).

A Lyndhurst officer then began following the stolen SUV after it ran a red light but broke off the chase as it turned onto Ridge Road and sped north toward Route 3, a law enforcement source told CLIFFVIEW PILOT .

Another Lyndhurst unit picked it up on Riverside Avenue near Valley Brook moments later, he said.

NEWS 12 photo

The Nissan Armada — reported stolen out of Newark — then “proceeded to drive recklessly through Lyndhurst and surrounding towns…recklessly running many red lights and stop signs and going airborne over some hills,” Hoffman said.

Lyndhurst, Rutherford and State Police converged on the car at the Ridge Road overpass above Route 3 around 2:30 a.m.

The SUV’s headlights were off when Ashford drove into the path of an oncoming Lyndhurst police car, making the officer swerve.

Ashford then lost control of the Armada, which crashed into a concrete barrier and yellow DOT sand barrels on the northbound side of Ridge Road.

“Police positioned their vehicles around the SUV in an attempt to apprehend the vehicle’s occupants,” Hoffman said, confirming an earlier CLIFFVIEW PILOT report, “but the driver put the car in reverse, spinning the tires of the vehicle until the roadway was filled with smoke.”

“The Rutherford unit pulled right up behind it,” a source told CLIFFVIEW PILOT this morning. “The driver began ramming it, trying to get away.

“The officers ordered them to stop, to stop, to stop,” the source said. “Then the shots were fired.”

Two of the pursuing officers approached the SUV after it crashed, shouting “Let me see your hands!” Hoffman said today. When Ashford didn’t, one of them said, he tried breaking the driver’s side window with his baton, but Ashford “threw the SUV into reverse and hit the gas,” the attorney general said.

The vehicle was “stuck on the sand barriers” and then “jumped as the driver attempted to get it free,” Hoffman said, quoting one of the officers.

NJ Attorney General John J. Hoffman (PHOTO: Courtesy OCEAN COUNTY PROSECUTOR)

The SUV then “backed into his patrol car and continued to buck forward and back as well as to the side, with its tires squealing,” the officer told investigators, he said.

The officer said he was about a foot from the driver’s side when the vehicle came toward him and he heard gunshots.

He fired a single round but didn’t hit anyone, Hoffman said.

Ashford was slumped toward the center console “but still moving slightly” at that point, he said. Officers described how the vehicle “remained in reverse up against [a] patrol car, with the tires spinning at extremely high speed because the driver’s foot apparently was stuck on the accelerator.

“Smoke from the spinning tires engulfed the SUV, obscuring their vision.”

A State Police trooper who showed up said it was “very difficult to see or hear because of the thick smoke and screeching of the SUV’s wheels, which continued to spin and cause the vehicle to buck, according to all of the witnesses interviewed,” the attorney general said.

As he walked toward the front of the SUV, “he perceived that the vehicle lurched toward him and feared that it would hit him. He fired four rounds from a 12-gauge shotgun,” Hoffman said. “Forensic investigators determined that no shotgun projectiles hit Ashford.”

Officers were trying to get to Bynes, who had reclined the passenger seat and was laying back, but his door wouldn’t open,, the attorney general said.

“Smoke from the spinning tires continued to engulf the SUV, obscuring their vision, and gravel and debris were being thrown from the right rear wheel, where the tire had melted away,” he said.

One of the Lyndhurst officers retrieved a ballistics shield from his trunk so they could approach the passenger’s window without getting hit with debris, and his colleague broke the window with his baton.

Bynes was removed and didn’t resist, Hoffman said.

“Several officers from Lyndhurst and Rutherford, including the Lyndhurst officer who initiated the pursuit, pulled Ashford from the SUV and began to administer CPR,” he said. “One officer shut off the SUV.

“An EMT crew arrived at the scene and continued to administer CPR without success,” Hoffman said. “Ashford was taken to Hackensack Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead about 7:05 a.m.”

The medical examiner determined the cause of death as “gunshot wounds of head and upper extremities,” the attorney general said.

Under guidelines enacted by Hoffman this summer, prosecutors must present police-involved shootings to a grand jury for independent review “unless the undisputed facts indicate that the use of force was justified under the law.”

If a prosecutor doesn’t go to grand jury, the state Division of Criminal Justice must approve the decision after “substantive review.”

Hoffman said the subsequent investigation by his Shooting Response Team — made up of attorneys and detectives from the Division of Criminal Justice and detectives from the State Police Major Crime Unit — included “numerous witness interviews, including interviews of all of the officers involved; collection of forensic evidence, including crime-scene and ballistics evidence; and autopsy results from the medical examiner.”

After hearing testimony and considering evidence from the investigation, the state grand jury returned a “no bill” — declining to indict any of the law enforcement officers involved.

PHOTO (top): Courtesy NEWS 12

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