An unarmed Black man was shot four times by plain-clothed Trenton police officers while getting a drink of iced tea from a Saturn Ion parked outside of his girlfriend’s home
Authorities at the Union County Prosecutor’s Office released the body camera footage of the assault on Jajuan Henderson, who was shot by police officers who surrounded the parked car he was in and broke open the window all while neglecting his demands for an attorney or explanation about what gave them probable cause for the assault.
Henderson, 29, was paralyzed from the chest down following the Feb. 12 encounter with Trenton police, according to a lawsuit that was filed in Mercer County alleging racial profiling and other civil rights violations.
In the days following the shooting, the state Attorney General’s Office failed to issue the kind of press release that says it is conducting an investigation any time there is an officer-involved shooting.
Instead, the case was transferred to the Union County Prosecutor’s Office to avoid conflicts of interest with law enforcement and prosecutors in Mercer County.
The provisions of Attorney General Law Enforcement Directive 2019-4 require an independent investigation of any use of force by a law enforcement officer that results in serious bodily injury or any use of deadly force—such as the discharge of a firearm—by a law enforcement officer, regardless of whether it resulted in injury.
Salvation and Social Justice called for the release of the body camera footage without delay after a prolonged wait for the video while the NAACP and others have raised questions about the unprovoked law enforcement violence.
Mayor W. Reed Gusciora has echoed calls from civil rights leaders but community leaders say he—along with Councilman George Muschal—has contributed to police misconduct in a city tormented by violence over the last two years.
The Attorney General’s directive from 2021 requires that body camera footage be released–upon request–within 20 days of the encounter.
Henderson’s family filed a lawsuit seeking justice for their son and brother.
“Mr. Henderson’s terrible encounter with the Trenton Police Department shines a spotlight on the predatory nature of policing throughout the state,” said the Rev. Dr. Charles F. Boyer, pastor of Greater Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in Trenton. “He wasn’t committing a crime. Yet he was attacked and shot by a group of police officers in unmarked cars, dressed in all black with ski masks. This situation is yet another prime example of why we need meaningful police accountability measures.”
“No police officer should have immunity from accountability for criminal conduct and violently attacking a man who is minding his own business, then shooting him, is clearly a crime,” said Lisa McCormick, an advocate for abolishing qualified immunity. “Sitting in a car at night does not warrant lethal use of force. I think the problem here is that Trenton police officers failed to recognize that Jajuan Henderson is a human being entitled to all the rights of an America citizen.”
Boyer and McCormick each said that the City of Trenton should establish a Civilian Complaint Review Board vested with subpoena power and lawmakers must adopt legislation allowing that process.
Boyer also called on the New Jersey Legislature to codify the Attorney General’s Use of Force Directive and provide funding for community-based alternatives to police intervention for non violent behavioral health and quality of life issues.
“The church can no longer sit idly and just pray for better days. We must advocate together, forsaking denomination, and demand police accountability and transparency. Mr. Henderson, his family, and the citizens of Trenton deserve justice and it is the job of the City of Trenton to deliver it,” said Pastor John Taylor of Friendship Baptist Church in Trenton. “Now is the time for accountability!”
Dozens of murders have plagued Trenton in the last few years, but more aggressive policing has been directed at the community at large, rather than targeted toward actual criminals.
A lawsuit filed by the former police chief documents protection provided to bad cops and political interference from Gusciora and Muschal.