State Grand Jury Declines to Criminally Charge Officers Involved in Fatal Police Encounter in Secaucus

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A state grand jury has voted not to file any criminal charges at the conclusion of its deliberations regarding the death of Anthony Rosso, 68, of Secaucus, N.J., who was armed with a firearm and died during an encounter with officers of the Secaucus Police Department on Dec. 1, 2019. As required by statute, all fatal officer-involved encounters must be presented to a grand jury.

The fatal police encounter was investigated by the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA) and presented to 16 to 23 New Jersey residents called to serve on the grand jury in accordance with Directive 2019-4, the “Independent Prosecutor Directive,” issued by the Attorney General in 2019. The investigation included interviews of witnesses; review of 911 recording; collection of forensic evidence; ballistics testing; and autopsy results from the medical examiner. After hearing testimony and evidence from the investigation, the grand jury concluded its deliberations on Monday, July 19, and voted “no bill,” meaning a majority of grand jurors found the actions of the officers who fired upon Mr. Rosso were not the cause of his death and no charges should be filed against them.

The Administrative Office of the Courts recently authorized the resumption of in-person grand juries, which had been suspended during the COVID emergency. Now that in-person grand jury presentations are permitted, OPIA will present the many completed investigations of fatal police encounters that were pending due to the pandemic. OPIA last week 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.

Officers of the Secaucus Police Department responded to a residence in the 300 block of Sea Isle Key in the Harmon Cove development after a 911 call was received at approximately 5:41 p.m. on Dec. 1, 2019, reporting a domestic incident with a shot fired. Upon arrival, they encountered Mr. Rosso, who was outside the residence and was armed with a handgun. During the incident, Mr. Rosso fired his gun and multiple police officers returned fire, grazing Mr. Rosso in the arm. Mr. Rosso was fatally wounded by a self-inflicted gun shot to the head. Emergency medical personnel responded and rendered aid, and Mr. Rosso was pronounced dead at the scene at 7:14 p.m. The Medical Examiner ruled the manner of death to be suicide.

No one else was injured. Members of the Hudson County Regional SWAT Team also responded, arriving at the scene after the officer-involved gunfire. Ballistics in this case indicated that five rounds were fired by Mr. Rosso and 16 rounds were fired by the three officers.

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.

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.

The Independent Prosecutor Directive is posted on the Attorney General’s website at this link:

https://www.nj.gov/oag/dcj/agguide/directives/ag-Directive-2019-4.pdf

Further information about how officer-involved shootings are investigated in New Jersey under the directive is found at this link:
http://www.nj.gov/oag/independent-prosecutor/

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