No criminal charge for Sheriff’s Officer whose SUV killed a 12-year-old boy

A grand jury declined to level charges against the Bergen County Sheriff’s Officer who killed a 12-year-old boy from Fair Lawn who was one of four juveniles crossing Route 208 shortly after 9:00 p.m. on April 14, 2019.

A state grand jury voted not to file any criminal charges at the conclusion of its deliberations regarding the death of a boy, age 12, who was struck and killed by a police vehicle driven by Officer Michael Sansevere of the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office on Route 208 in Fair Lawn on April 14, 2019.

Three of the kids crossed the northbound lanes, jumped over the center divider, and ran across the southbound lanes.

Christian Tawadros, then a seventh-grader at Thomas Jefferson Middle School, who was behind the other three, crossed the northbound lanes, climbed over the center divider, and was struck in the center of the left southbound lane by a marked Bergen County Sheriff’s Office SUV driven by Sansevere.

The fatal police encounter was investigated by the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA) and presented to 16 to 23 New Jersey residents called to serve on the grand jury in accordance with Directive 2019-4, the “Independent Prosecutor Directive,” issued in 2019.

In July 2021, OPIA issued standard operating procedures (“SOPs”) to ensure that these grand jury presentations are conducted in a neutral, objective manner, and with appropriate transparency regarding the process, consistent with the Independent Prosecutor Directive.

The investigation included interviews of witnesses; review of footage from the mobile video recorder in the police vehicle; and autopsy results from the medical examiner.

After hearing testimony and evidence from the investigation, the grand jury concluded its deliberations yesterday, Nov. 9, and voted “no bill,” meaning a majority of grand jurors concluded that no charges should be filed against Officer Sansevere.

Shortly after 9:00 p.m. on April 14, 2019, four juveniles were attempting to cross Route 208 from east to west, just north of Fair Lawn Avenue.

Route 208 is a multi-lane divided highway. Three of the juveniles crossed the northbound lanes, jumped over the center divider, and ran across the southbound lanes.

The decedent, who was behind the other three juveniles, crossed the northbound lanes, climbed over the center divider, and was struck in the center of the left southbound lane by a marked Bergen County Sheriff’s Office SUV driven by Officer Sansevere.

According to a February lawsuit filed in Superior Court of Bergen County, Sansevere drove his police vehicle in “an inattentive, careless, reckless and negligent manner” when he struck the child.

The lawsuit states the victim’s brother, who is also a minor, “witnessed his brother’s pain and suffering” and has continued to suffer mental anguish and psychological harm.

Tawadros, who was in a special education program at the Thomas Jefferson Middle School, had joined his 7th-grade brother and two friends to go out to eat, said someone familiar with the incident who asked not to be identified.

The older boy “took Christian everywhere with him,” the source said, adding that the group “made the wrong decision to cross 208 in the rain” just after 9 p.m.

While the civil action accuses Sansevere of recklessness, it also alleges the county and borough were negligent in hiring the officer and in trusting him with the vehicle.

The family is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, along with costs of the suit.

The officer was on duty, but was not responding to a call for service at the time. After the impact, Sansevere brought his vehicle to an immediate stop, activated his emergency lights, notified dispatch of the collision, exited his vehicle, and assessed the child’s condition.

Emergency medical personnel responded, and the child was pronounced deceased at the scene.

Bergen County Sheriff Anthony Cureton said that Sansevere had been employed with the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office for 12 years when the tragic incident occurred.

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