A Paterson police officer has been charged with aggravated assault and official misconduct for shooting a fleeing man in the back, according to the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office.
Jerry Moravek, 40, of Paterson, was charged by a criminal complaint with second-degree aggravated assault causing serious bodily injury and second-degree official misconduct.
Moravek, who has been an officer at Paterson police force for eight years, engaged the victim in a foot chase on June 11, 2022. He ordered the victim to drop the gun, but did not order him order him to stop running or get on the ground. He also did not warn the victim he was going to use deadly force, authorities said.
As the victim ran, Moravek fired his service weapon. It struck the victim in the back and rendered him unable to walk.
Bodycam footage does not show the victim brandishing a firearm or pointing it at the officer. No gun was found in the victim’s possession or within his reach, authorities said.
Authorities said a discarded firearm was recovered around the block from where the victim was shot. It was found along the path the victim ran. But testing of the weapon did not find the victim’s DNA or fingerprints.
The victim told the officers he ran because he was afraid and he did not have a weapon.
Authorities said the gunshot left bullet fragments in the victim’s spine, leaving him unable to walk.
Use of deadly force is allowed in rare situations against a fleeing suspect such as when he poses an imminent danger to public safety if he were not immediately arrested.
“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.”
Mayor Andre Sayegh defended the officer’s use of deadly force.
“The police officer was responding to a call for service when shots were fired in his vicinity. 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,” Sayegh said. “Several guns and shell casings were recovered from the scene. We will respect the judicial system and let the legal process play out.”
Moravek could face 20 years in state prison if convicted.
“Every case deserves a thorough investigation and here we have determined that the use of deadly force was not justified. 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,” New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin said.