No charges in fatal police shooting of robber

A state grand jury has voted not to file any criminal charges at the conclusion of its deliberations regarding the death of James M. Sutton, 55, of Keansburg, N.J., who died when three officers of the Keansburg Police Department fired their service weapons at him on January 6, 2022 in Keansburg.

The Attorney General’s Office previously released the identities of the police officers who fired at Sutton. They are Officer Jillian Putkowski, Detective Richard Johnson, and Detective Christopher Rogan.

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

The investigation of this fatal police encounter included interviews of witnesses, collection of forensic evidence, review of video footage, and autopsy results from the medical examiner.

After hearing testimony and evidence from the investigation, the grand jury concluded its deliberations Monday, October 17, 2022, and voted “no bill” meaning the grand jury determined that the actions of the officers who shot at Sutton should not result in charges against them.

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.

According to the investigation, shortly before 3:30 p.m. on Jan. 6, Keansburg Police received several 911 calls reporting a robbery in progress at the Keansburg Pharmacy at 199 Main Street.

A man—later identified as decedent James Sutton—entered the pharmacy armed with a large knife, demanded oxycodone, and was holding a pharmacy employee at knifepoint.

Multiple Keansburg Police officers responded. When officers entered the Pharmacy, they found Sutton wielding a large knife, holding onto a pharmacy employee and threatening to harm him.

Lt. Dennis Valle and Officer Putkowski each deployed a taser, but they had no effect on Sutton.

When Valle approached Sutton in an attempt to rescue the pharmacy employee, the suspect stabbed himin the shoulder.

In response, Johnson, Putkowski, and Rogan fired their service weapons, fatally striking Sutton, who was pronounced dead at the scene.

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.

After considering the evidence, testimony from the OPIA investigation, and instructions on the legal standards, including whether the officer’s actions were legally justified, the state grand jury determined that no criminal charges should be brought against the officers.

An officer may use deadly force in New Jersey when the officer reasonably believes it is immediately necessary to protect the officer or another person from imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm.

A conflicts check was conducted pursuant to the Independent Prosecutor Directive and no actual or potential conflict of interest was found involving any individual 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, pursuant to the Independent Prosecutor Directive and SOPs, 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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