No charges over 51-year-old Paterson man who died in police custody

A state grand jury has voted not to file any criminal charges at the conclusion of its deliberations regarding the death of Sergio Rodriguez of Paterson, N.J., who died on June 27, 2020, after he was arrested by a New Jersey state trooper during a motor vehicle stop outside the State Police Totowa substation.

New Jersey State Police Trooper Marc Concato stopped the man’s gray Mazda on June 27 outside the State Police station in Totowa for using his phone while driving. Police then allegedly found a wax fold of heroin on the floor of the car.

The state Attorney General’s Office released police video footage of the last hours of the 51-year-old Paterson man who died in custody. The video showed the driver telling Concato he was on the phone with his daughter because he’s feeling sick, adding that he’s a diabetic.

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 a directive issued in 2019.

The investigation of this officer-involved fatality included interviews of witnesses, collection of forensic evidence, review of recordings from body-worn cameras and a mobile video recorder (MVR) in a police vehicle, and autopsy results from the medical examiner.

After hearing testimony and evidence from the investigation, the grand jury completed its deliberations yesterday, March 14, and voted “no bill,” meaning a majority of grand jurors concluded that no criminal charges should be filed against any officer involved in the fatal encounter.

According to the investigation, on June 27, 2020, Trooper Marc Concato of the New Jersey State Police (NJSP) conducted a motor vehicle stop of Rodriguez after observing him using a cell phone while driving on Minnisink Road in Totowa.

Rodriguez stopped in the parking lot of the NJSP Totowa substation. During the stop, Trooper Gary Rokoszak arrived to assist.

While Concato spoke to Rodriguez, he observed suspected narcotics in the front passenger side of the vehicle.

He requested that Rodriguez exit the vehicle and then placed him under arrest.

Rodriguez was seated in the police vehicle with the door open and his feet outside while speaking to the troopers.

Rodriguez said he suffered from certain medical conditions. Although he was not exhibiting any symptoms at the time, the troopers called emergency medical personnel.

Shortly thereafter, Rodriguez experienced a medical episode and became unresponsive.

The troopers removed Rodriguez from the police vehicle and laid him on the grass near the vehicle, where his handcuffs were removed and emergency aid was administered by the troopers, including additional troopers who arrived.

Prior to the arrival of EMS, the troopers administered Narcan intra-nasally, shocks from a defibrillator, and CPR.

Rodriguez became responsive and verbal for a short period of time, but after the arrival of EMS, he again became unresponsive.

He was transported to St. Joseph’s University Medical Center in Paterson, where he was pronounced deceased at about 1:05 p.m.

An autopsy conducted by the Medical Examiner determined that the cause of death was a pre-existing medical condition and acute combined drug toxicity.

The Attorney General’s Office previously identified the other state troopers who arrived at the scene to assist as Troopers Jeremy Chmiel, Michael Rivetti, Edgar Rodriguez, and Emmanuel Roman.

A 2019 law, P.L. 2019, c. 1, requires the Attorney General’s Office to conduct investigations of a person’s death that occurs during an encounter with a law enforcement officer acting in the officer’s official capacity or while the decedent is in custody. It requires that all such investigations be presented to a grand jury to determine if the evidence supports the return of an indictment against the officer or officers involved.

A check was conducted to confirm that no actual or potential conflict of interest existed involving anyone assigned to the investigation.

Prior to presentation to the grand jury, the investigation was reviewed by OPIA Executive Director Thomas Eicher in accordance with the policies and procedures established for these presentations in the SOPs.

At the conclusion of these investigations, OPIA determines whether any principal should be referred to the appropriate law enforcement agency for administrative review in accordance with the AG’s Internal Affairs Policy & Procedures. OPIA monitors any resulting review and takes such actions as are necessary to ensure that the review is completed in a timely fashion, and that appropriate actions are taken based on the results of the review.

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