Paterson police officer charged for shooting unarmed man in the back

Paterson police officer Jerry Moravek, 40, of Paterson, has been charged by criminal complaint with second-degree aggravated assault causing serious bodily injury and second-degree official misconduct.

The Attorney General’s Office today announced charges have been filed against Moravek, who allegedly shot a man in the back as he was running away from the officer in June 2022, leaving the victim with a disabling spinal injury.

The complaint alleges that on June 11, 2022, Moravek was acting his capacity as a police officer with the Paterson Police Department when he engaged in a foot chase with the victim.

During that pursuit, Movarek repeatedly ordered the victim to drop the gun, but never once ordered him to stop running, to get to the ground or warn the victim that he was going to use deadly force.

As the individual continued running, Moravek discharged his duty weapon, striking the victim in the back and rendering him unable to walk.

The body-worn camera footage does not depict the victim brandishing any firearm or pointing a firearm at the defendant, other officers or any member of the public.

No gun was found in the victim’s possession nor within his reach.

Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh defended Moravek in a brief statement.

“The police officer was responding to a call for service when shots were fired in his vicinity,” said Sayegh. “The officer ran towards the shots fired and pursued an individual whom he believed to have a gun.”

“While it is unfortunate that an individual was shot, a preliminary review reveals that the officer was following guidelines,” said Sayegh. “Several guns and shell casings were recovered from the scene. We will respect the judicial system and let the legal process play out. Until that time, the city will have no further comment.”

“Under the law discharging a firearm is meant to be a last resort, used by officers when they or the public face an imminent threat of death or serious injury. That just wasn’t the situation here,” said Thomas Eicher, executive director of the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability, which investigated the case. “This lapse of judgment, this violation of the law and police procedures, has had a steep cost for the victim and it must have consequences.”

“We have promised to never be complacent and we have made a commitment to stand up against unnecessary and excessive uses of force by those with a duty to protect the public, enforce the law and promote justice,” said Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin. “There is no more significant action than the use of deadly force.”

“Not only can it result in the unnecessary loss of life or permanent injuries and disabilities, but instances of uncalled-for, disproportional and destructive use of deadly force sow distrust in, and erodes respect for, law enforcement among the community,” said Platkin. “Law enforcement officers across the country put themselves at risk every day, and in New Jersey they receive extensive training to be able to determine when a threat is genuine and how to resolve a situation without the use of deadly force.”

“Every case deserves a thorough investigation and here we have determined that the use of deadly force was not justified,” said Platkin. “A young man’s life will never be the same because of the unnecessary action by this officer, which contradicted his police training and his oath to protect and preserve life.”

OPIA investigators learned that a discarded firearm was recovered around the block from where the victim was shot, along the path that he had run.

However, subsequent testing on the firearm revealed no DNA or fingerprint evidence linking it to the victim, who told officers he was running because he was afraid and that he had no weapon.

The gunshot to the victim’s back left bullet fragments in his spine, leaving him unable to walk.

The Attorney General’s Guidelines on Use of Force, the Paterson Police Department Standard Operating Procedures and state law enable police officers to only use deadly force against a suspect when immediately necessary to protect the officer or another person from imminent danger, and it can only be used against a fleeing suspect in the rare situation when the suspect would pose an imminent danger to public safety if he were not immediately apprehended.

If convicted of the charges, Moravek could face up to 10 years in state prison on each count.

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