The Attorney General’s Office today released video recordings related to the death of Mario Terruso, 41, of Mays Landing, N.J., who died after he was lodged in the Atlantic County Justice Facility in September 2019.
The fatal incident remains under investigation by the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA). The recordings are being released pursuant to policies established by the Attorney General in 2019 that are designed to promote the fair, impartial, and transparent investigation of fatal police encounters. Prior to today’s release, investigators provided the video recordings to the decedent’s representative and relatives for their review. The Attorney General’s Office, however, has engaged with Mr. Terruso’s family and the representative over many months to provide them an opportunity to review the videos before release.
Terruso was detained by the Hamilton Township Police Department (Atlantic County) shortly after 1 p.m. on September 15, 2019, after police responded to a report of an individual trespassing in a residence. The individual was identified as Mr. Terruso. After learning that Mr. Terruso had an open warrant for his arrest, authorities lodged him in the Atlantic County Justice Facility. Later, Mr. Terruso appeared agitated and ill. Shortly before 7 p.m., corrections officers attempted to prepare Mr. Terruso for transport to the hospital for his illness. This was captured on body worn and hand held cameras. Officers sought to restrain Mr. Terruso, resulting in a struggle. During the struggle, Mr. Terruso became unresponsive. Medical assistance was rendered by corrections officers and emergency medical personnel, who arrived at approximately 7 p.m. Mr. Terruso left the jail in an ambulance at approximately 7:25 p.m., and arrived at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, Mainland Campus, at approximately 7:50 p.m. He was pronounced dead at 2:19 a.m. on September 16, 2019.
The video recordings are posted online: Click here for recordings.
This investigation is being conducted pursuant to a state law enacted in January 2019 (P.L. 2019, c.1), which requires that the Attorney General’s Office conduct all 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. Separately, the Independent Prosecutor Directive, which was issued by Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal in December 2019, outlines a 10-step process for conducting these investigations. The Directive establishes clear procedures governing such investigations to ensure that they are conducted in a full, impartial and transparent manner. Under both state law and the Directive, when the entire investigation is complete, the case will be presented to a grand jury, typically consisting of 16 to 23 citizens, to make the ultimate decision regarding whether criminal charges will be filed. At present due to the COVID-19 pandemic, regular grand juries are not sitting and hearing cases.
A copy of the Directive is available at this link:
https://www.nj.gov/oag/excellence/docs/2019-4_Independent_Prosecutor_Directive.pdf, and a summary of that 10-step process is available at this link: https://www.nj.gov/oag/excellence/docs/The-Independent-Prosecutor-Directive.pdf