by Sophie Nieto-Munoz, New Jersey Monitor
Days after a grand jury declined to indict a Newark cop in the fatal shooting of an unarmed South Orange man in January 2021, the man’s family members said they are still reeling from the “excruciating pain” of his loss.
Speaking to reporters Monday, Madinah Person said when she heard the news that Newark Police Detective Rod Simpkins would face no charges over the killing of her brother Carl Dorsey, it felt like Dorsey dying all over again.
“It’s almost like my brother’s life didn’t matter to anyone else but our family, and it was another slap in the face to just go from not knowing anything for two years to finding out that the officer who killed him was not charged at all,” she said.
The family said they want U.S. District Attorney Peter Sellinger to investigate Dorsey’s death.
Person was speaking to the press outside of the federal courthouse on Broad Street in Newark along with other family members and civil rights activists to demand justice for Dorsey.
Dorsey, an unarmed Black man who was killed by Newark police on New Year’s Day 2021, was shot minutes after midnight.
Authorities said police were responding to reports of gunshots near South 11th Street and Woodland Avenue in Newark.
Surveillance video capturing the killing shows a group of 12 plainclothes officers pull up in unmarked cars to South 11th Street and Dorsey crossing the street toward them.
Simpkins and Dorsey collide, and then Simpkins shoots him.
Dorsey, a 39-year-old father of three, died an hour later after being transported to University Hospital in Newark.
Robert Tarver, attorney for the family, noted the video shows Simpkins turning his body and firing toward Dorsey after they collide.
The Attorney General’s Office describes the shooting like this: “As Det. Simpkins was falling to the ground, his service weapon discharged once, striking Mr. Dorsey.”
“As if it had done that by itself,” Tarver said.
On Monday, Tarver showed frame-by-frame photos of the video, taken from across the street. Tarver noted the officer’s stance while Dorsey was attempting to move away from the officers and that Simpkins was the one who ran into Dorsey. He also stressed that Dorsey, who was Black, posed no threat because he was unarmed.
“Here we are, at this time and this place where we have been far too many times, the same scenario over and over. But we are here because this is not going to be the end of our journey to get Carl Dorsey justice,” he said. “We’re here because this is the beginning of a new day.” Madinah Person shows her shirt with her brother’s photo on it. Carl Dorsey had the nickname “Turtle” because of his hard exterior, she said. (Sophie Nieto-Muñoz | New Jersey Monitor)
Attorney General Matt Platkin — whose office must investigate all police-involved fatalities — said in a statement Thursday that his probe included interviews with witnesses and reviews of video, forensic evidence, and autopsy results from the medical examiner. None of the officers wore body cameras.
The grand jury concluded deliberations on Jan. 24 and voted “no bill,” which means no criminal charges should be filed.
The Dorsey family received no updates from Platkin’s office until the decision not to indict, family members and Tarver said
Justice means not only holding police officers accountable for their actions, but also transparency with victims’ families, Tarver said.
“It’s important to understand that his family has been affected, his family has been hurt by this, and this family has been injured,” Tarver said. “They’ve lost their loved one forever.”
Tarver said he wants to hold Sellinger to his promise of upholding civil rights. In March 2022, Sellinger launched a division within his office to enforce civil rights laws in New Jersey, saying at the time that “hate crimes and unlawful bias incidents are antithetical to the core principles underlying our democracy.”
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said the city will begin its own independent investigation of the killing.
The family also filed a civil rights lawsuit against several Newark police officers, the police department, and the city in state Superior Court in August. The suit accuses the city of failing to properly train officers and alleges the police committed excessive force during the incident.
The news Simpkins would not face charges came one day before the release of videos showing Memphis police officers beating Tyre Nichols, who died three days after the beating. Nichols was also unarmed.
The officers who beat Nichols were charged with second-degree murder. Medinah Person, Dorsey’s sister, said she couldn’t bring herself to watch that video because it reminds her of what her brother went through at the hands of police.
“There is a long straight line between this incident and the incident in Memphis and the other ones like it. It’s an unbreakable bond because they all have something in common, and that is the devaluation of Black life in America,” Tarver said.
Lawrence Hamm, chair of the People’s Organization for Progress, called on the state Legislature to pass a bill, A1515, that would allow municipalities to create civilian police review boards with subpoena power. The bill hasn’t received a hearing in the Legislature more than a year after it was introduced.
“The police have to understand there are consequences for what they do. That’s why they keep doing it — because there’s not been any consequences,” Hamm said. “They have to know that if they commit an unjust murder, they have to pay the same price that a citizen would have to pay.”
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