the staff of the Ridgewood blog
Lake Hopatcong, N.J, In compliance with the Attorney General’s Directive on Police-Use-of-Force Investigations, this public statement is being issued on the findings of an investigation into a state trooper’s use of deadly force during an arrest in Lake Hopatcong, N.J., in May 2017. The arrestee was shot and wounded when he charged at the trooper during a domestic violence investigation.
Under the Attorney General’s Directive, the use of deadly force by the state trooper was investigated by the Attorney General’s Shooting Response Team, made up of investigators from the Division of Criminal Justice and the New Jersey State Police Homicide Unit. As a result of the investigation, Director Elie Honig of the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice determined that presentation of the police-involved shooting to a grand jury was not required under the directive, because the facts showed that the use of force was justified under the law. The investigation included witness interviews, forensic analysis of the scene, and other evidence.
With regard to the specific factual circumstances of the incident, the investigation revealed that the incident began when troopers from the Netcong State Police Barracks received a report of a woman walking along the eastbound shoulder of Interstate 80. When a trooper responded to assist the woman and bring her to the State Police barracks, she reported that she had been assaulted by her boyfriend while they were driving on I-80, and he had made her get out of the car. She had visible injuries on her face and body, including a cut lip, a cut on her forehead, and bruises on her arm and shoulder. Her boyfriend was identified as Matthew Gerndt, 36, of Lake Hopatcong. He was reported to be highly intoxicated.
Five troopers responded to Gerndt’s apartment on Brady Road in Lake Hopatcong at about 11:30 p.m. to arrest him on an assault charge. Upon arrival, troopers saw Gerndt outside the rear of the residence on a patio, which was accessed by a sliding glass door from his basement apartment. Trooper 1 identified himself to Gerndt as State Police, but Gerndt retreated into the house and closed the patio door. Troopers approached the patio door and again identified themselves as State Police, but Gerndt did not respond. Trooper 1 reported that Gerndt moved a curtain and looked out at the troopers but did not open the door.
The troopers went to the front door, where they were admitted to the house by the landlord via a landing between the two levels of the split-level home. They were directed down a set of stairs to Gerndt’s apartment, which included a narrow hallway and six closed doors. The hallway was dark except for dim light from the landing and flashlights held by Trooper 1 and a second trooper who also descended the stairs to Gerndt’s apartment and entered the narrow hallway. The two troopers began knocking on all of the doors and commanding Gerndt to come out, with no response. With Trooper 1 in the lead and the second trooper following him, Trooper 1 pointed to a door leading to a recreation room, which was the room leading to the patio, and began to pry the door open.
At that point, Trooper 1 felt a rush of air on the back of his neck as the door behind him was yanked open by Gerndt. Trooper 1 heard the second trooper yell “Watch your back!” Trooper 1 turned and raised his left arm to defend himself as Gerndt allegedly rushed him, driving him back against a wall of the narrow hallway. Trooper 1 had already drawn his service pistol and was holding it at his right hip when he was charged. He fired twice while Gerndt was assaulting him. One round struck Gerndt in the side of his left buttock and exited toward the rear of his left buttock.
Gerndt retreated into the bedroom from which he had charged the trooper. The two troopers entered the bedroom and secured Gerndt, who continued to resist ineffectually until he was handcuffed. The troopers treated Gerndt and called for emergency medical personnel. After EMS arrived, Gerndt walked to the ambulance and was transported to Morristown Medical Center, where he was treated and released the same day. Gerndt was charged with assault and resisting arrest. None of the troopers were injured. Testing of Gerndt’s blood determined that he had a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of .29 percent.
This matter was reviewed by Director Honig and all portions of the Attorney General’s Directive on Police-Use-of-Force Investigations were complied with. After analyzing all of the facts and circumstances, Director Honig concluded that the trooper’s use of force was justified under the law. The facts and circumstances reasonably led the officer to believe his actions were immediately necessary to protect himself and his fellow officers from death or serious injury. 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.
In New Jersey, all investigations into police deadly force incidents are governed by an Attorney General directive – issued in 2006 and strengthened in 2015 – which establishes strict procedures for conducting these investigations. When a state- or county-level officer uses deadly force, the case is investigated by the Attorney General’s Shooting Response Team, made up of deputy attorneys general and detectives of the Division of Criminal Justice, as well as detectives of the State Police Homicide Unit, all of whom operate independently of their usual chain of command and report directly to the Director of the Division of Criminal Justice or a designee.