LYNDHURST, N.J. -- Grand jurors in Hackensack on Wednesday cleared two Lyndhurst police officers who shot and killed a knife-wielding borough man who authorities said attacked them in a library in May 2015.
Grand jurors reviewed 23 witness interviews, forensic evidence, ballistic reports and both audio and video recordings, among other items, in their review of an incident that acting Bergen County Prosecutor Gurbir S. Grewal said Wednesday took all of three minutes.
They found the police actions "justified and declined to return criminal charges against either officer," he said.
Kevin Allen, 36, was caught on surveillance video selling a stolen a PlayStation 4 gaming console for $180 in game at a Game Stop electronics store in town on May 25 of last year, Grewal said.
They identified him through the driver's license he presented during the sale -- and discovered there was a previous warrant for Allen's arrest for escape, the prosecutor said.
Grewal gave the following account:
Just after 1:30 p.m. on May 29, Allen walked in front of a police cruiser, forcing one of the two officers to slam on the brakes.
Allen then went into the library, which is adjacent to police headquarters,.
The officer followed after summoning backups.
Allen was found sitting at the end of a bank of computers in the upstairs Media Room. Six other patrons were there.
The officer approached Allen and walked him into an area next to the Young Adult Room.
When asked, Allen said his name was "Kareem" and that he lived at 74 Stuyvesant Avenue.
He couldn't produced identification.
Allen "initially complied and put his hands behind his back" but then broke free and ran into the Young Adult Room.
“I need help upstairs. Help upstairs,” the officer radioed in.
The officer then tackled Allen, who crawled away and "positioned himself behind a piano in the Young Adult Room. The front of the piano faced the doorway between the Young Adult Room and the Media Room."
As the officer rose from the floor, Allen "placed both hands in his pockets."
The officer and a backup ordered him to remove them.
Allen refused and the officers pepper sprayed him.
It had no effect.
Allen "placed his right hand across his forehead and pulled his left hand out of his pants pocket."
He was holding an orange-colored utility knife.
Witnesses saw Allen "use his thumb to extend the blade of the utility knife," at which point the second officer pulled out a service firearm and shouted at him to drop the weapon.
“You’re not going to shoot me. You’re not going to shoot me,” Allen repeated.
Allen "then moved around the piano, past a group of chairs by the fireplace near the piano, and towards some bookcases."
Then he stopped and faced the first officer from 12 to 14 feet away. The other officer was to the colleague's left.
The first officer pulled a collapsible baton with the intent of knocking the knife from Allen's hand.
But Allen "subsequently twisted his body away...concealing the knife slightly behind him."
“Drop the knife or we’re going to shoot,” both officers shouted.
Allen continued to ignore the officers’ commands, insisting “You’re not going to shoot me.”
The first officer dropped the baton, pulled out a service revolver and pointed it at Allen.
Allen then "advanced towards [the officer] in an aggressive manner and swung his left arm across his body and raised his left hand, in which he held the utility knife, up by the left side of his head."
The utility knife "was pointed towards" the officer.
Allen "then charged towards the officer.
When he got within four to six feet, both officers fired.
The first officer fired four rounds, the backup discharged five.
"Allen continued to move forward and brought both of his arms to his chest. [H]e was moving in the direction of Officer 1.
"Both officers stopped firing their weapons after they saw [him] fall to the ground."
Allen landed on his right side.
"His right hand was underneath his body and his left arm was extended out. [He] still had the utility knife in his left hand with the blade extended. Officer 1 then kicked the utility knife out of [Allen’s] hand.
"The utility knife was recovered with its blade extended in close proximity to [his] left hand.
The first officer radioed police headquarters and requested an ambulance.
Another officer who'd responded turned Allen onto his back and began rendering first aid.
"Within minutes, Mr. Allen was removed from the library by ambulance and taken to Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at approximately 2:24 p.m."
Although none of the civilian witnesses at the library saw the shooting, Grewal said, "a number of the civilian witnesses who were in the Media Room at the time of the shooting heard the police officers repeatedly shout commands at Mr. Allen to drop his weapon.
"Two of the civilian witnesses who were in the Media Room at the time of the shooting further corroborated that Mr. Allen was armed with a utility knife, which they were able to see from their respective vantage points.
"Additionally, the same two civilian witnesses heard Mr. Allen verbally threaten the officers.
"Specifically, one of those witnesses observed Mr. Allen run from Officer 1, move behind the piano in the Young Adult Room, hold up the utility knife in his hand, and then threaten to kill Officer 1, yelling: “I’m going to kill you! I am going to kill you!”
"That witness also observed Officer 1 unsuccessfully attempt to use [pepper] spray in an effort to subdue Mr. Allen.
"Similarly, the other civilian witness who heard Mr. Allen threaten Officer 1 also observed Mr. Allen run from Officer 1, move behind the piano in the Young Adult Room, and brandish a utility knife.
"According to that witness, Officer 1 directed Mr. Allen multiple times to drop his weapon, and Mr. Allen stated, in sum and substance, that he would get the officer first.
"Thereafter, that witness also observed Officer 1 unsuccessfully attempt to use ]pepper] spray in an effort to subdue Mr. Allen. That civilian witness also heard Officer 1 continue to command Mr. Allen to drop his weapon prior to shots being fired."
The prosecutor added that "most civilian witnesses stated that they believed they heard four shots; one civilian stated that he heard as many as seven shots."
An autopsy showed nine bullet wounds:
(1) a gunshot wound of the upper lateral right abdomen;
(2) a superficial perforating gunshot wound that entered and exited the upper right abdomen;
(3) a gunshot wound of the anterior left thigh;
(4) a gunshot wound of the upper right back;
(5) a gunshot wound of the right mid-back, which subsequent ballistics testing revealed was fired from Officer 2’s duty weapon;
(6) a gunshot entrance wound of the lateral mid-right back with an exit wound in the anterolateral left chest;
(7) a gunshot wound of the lower medial right back, which subsequent ballistics testing revealed that it was fired from Officer 2’s duty weapon;
(8) a gunshot wound of the left buttock;
(9) gunshot wound of the upper posterior lateral left thigh, which subsequent ballistics testing revealed that it was fired from Officer 2’s duty weapon.
"Seven of the nine bullets fired by the officers were recovered from Mr. Allen’s body at autopsy," Grewal said. "[F]our of those seven projectiles were deemed to be unsuitable for comparison purposes due to damage sustained on impact.
"During the investigation, a total of nine shell casings were collected from the scene. Subsequent ballistics testing determined that four of those shell casings were discharged from Officer 1’s duty weapon and five of those shell casings were discharged from Officer 2’s duty weapon. The locations of these shell casings were consistent with the position of each officer as described by the officers.
"The position of Mr. Allen’s body, as well as the respective positions of each officer at the time of the shooting, indicates that as Mr. Allen moved towards Officer 1 with the utility knife in his hand (moving from west to east), both his right side and back would have been presented to Officer 2, who was standing to Mr. Allen’s right."
The prosecutor added: "In addition to the nine gunshot wounds, the autopsy revealed that Mr. Allen had an incised wound in his right axilla. This wound is consistent with Mr. Allen wielding the utility knife from his right side to the left side prior to moving towards Officer 1.
"Mr. Allen’s blood, which was drawn during the autopsy, tested positive for Delta-9 THC, the active ingredient of marijuana. Two small bags of marijuana were recovered from Mr. Allen’s pants during the course of the investigation."
An additional note from the prosecutor:
"The information gathered during the course of the investigation, which is outlined above, was presented to a Bergen County Grand Jury pursuant to the terms of the July 28, 2015 Attorney General Supplemental Law Enforcement Directive regarding uniform statewide procedures and best practices for conducting police use of force investigations (“Attorney General’s Directive”).
"The Grand Jury was instructed on potential criminal charges against the two officers, as well as on the law of justification – that is, the use of force in protection of self and others."
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