FORT LEE, N.J. -- Two separate videos show that Fort Lee police were justified in shooting a man who fired at them first last summer, Bergen County's top lawman said Wednesday.
"While the police would have been justified in firing their weapons much earlier during this incident, the officers showed restraint and used deadly force only after [Jaquan] Suber threatened them with his gun multiple times and only after he fired on them," Acting Bergen County Prosecutor Dennis Calo said.
"There is no question that the officer’s use of deadly force was necessary to protect themselves and others from imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm, as is required by the Attorney General’s Use of Force Policy," he added.
No reason was found to present the circumstances of the non-fatal shooting of Suber to a grand jury, Calo said.
The state Attorney General's Office agreed, he said.
Video taken by a neighbor corroborated the account of events leading up to Suber being shot, Calo said.
It shows Suber "pointing the gun at police officers and the audio captured multiple commands by the officers to drop the weapon," he said. "Additionally, the video showed Suber pointing his gun in the direction of Civilian Witness 4’s window, causing this witness to duck for cover."
Surveillance footage capatured when a dispatcher redirected a traffic surveillance camera in the direction of 485 Summit Avenue shows the same thing, the prosecutor said.
It all began when residents told police who responded to the Summit Avenue apartment to investigate a missing persons report on Sept. 3 that they were concerned for their safety based on Suber's behavior.
"Specifically, the residents told the detectives that Fort Lee police officers had been summoned to the home earlier that morning because Suber had, for the second time in as many weeks, left gas from the stove flowing into the apartment," Calo said. "Given the residents’ fear for their own safety, as well as the detectives’ concern for Suber, the detectives decided to investigate the matter further.
Suber at first agreed to talk with the investigator but refused to allow them into his basement apartment, the prosecutor said.He then began "behaving bizarrely and irrationally," he said.Asked whether he was having mental problems, Suber acknowledged that he was “going through some things” but did not want to discuss them further with the police, Calo said.
The detectives contacted 262-HELP, the Bergen County designated psychiatric emergency screening program, and summoned a uniformed officer who arrived moments later, he said.
Seeing the officer, Suber "became noticeably agitated," Calo said.
One detective "asked Suber to step away from his apartment doorway and into the backyard," he said. "Suber refused, turned from Detective 1 and began to walk back into the apartment.
"Detective 1 began to follow Suber into the apartment, at which point Suber produced a handgun and pointed at Detective 1," Calo said. "Detective 1 immediately retreated into the backyard, where he/she, Detective 2 and Officer A set a secured perimeter around the rear of the home.
"They were joined by other responding officers, including Officers B and C."
An armed standoff followed, with officers pleading with Suber for about six minutes to drop his gun and surrender and promising to bring him to a doctor to get him help, Calo said.
"Suber refused and repeatedly pointed his gun at them," he said.
At one pint, Suber "left the area of his back door and ran around the backyard and garage area closing in on the location of the officers - all while continuing to point his weapon at them," forcing the officers to retreat and set up a wider perimeter around the entire home.
They also called for Fort Lee Police Department’s Emergency Services Unit.
"From the backyard, Suber continued to point his weapon in various directions, both toward the officers and in the direction of windows of occupied neighboring residences," Calo said.
"Suber then turned his attention up the driveway, pointed his weapon and fired it in the direction of the officers who had taken cover behind cars parked in the driveway," he said.
"Detective 1 and Police Officers B and C all returned fire," the prosecutor added.
Suber was struck three times, he said -- in the right side of the chest, in his right upper arm and in his right thigh.
"After being struck the first time, Suber fell momentarily and then raised his firearm and pointed it toward police again," Calo said. "He only dropped his weapon upon being struck a second time.
"Despite having been shot and ultimately losing his weapon, Suber continued to advance toward the police by running up the driveway."
Suber fought briefly with the first detective, who eventually subdued him with help from a Leonia police officer with a Taser.
After being given medical aid, Suber was taken to Hackensack University Medical Center, where he was streated before being released into police custody.
A Bergen County grand jury indicted Suber in December on seven counts of pointing a firearm at law enforcement officers, two counts of pointing a firearm at lay persons, three counts of attempted murder, one count of resisting arrest, one count of possession of a firearm for an unlawful purpose, one count of unlawful possession of a firearm, and one count of being a certain person not to possess a firearm.
Backgrounding shows that Suber had begun renting the apartment in March 2016 for $800 a month. The only issues the landlord said he had with Suber prior to the gas concerns was that "he would not pay rent on time," Calo said.
The landlord and another person tried to get into Suber's apartment that day because of a strong odor of smoke, the prosecutor said. They found a rope tied to the doorknob and went in through another door, where they spotted a 7-Up bottle with an unknown liquid hanging from the ceiling by a rope, he said.
They turned the gas off, opened the doors, cut the contraption down from the ceiling and called police -- reporting that it was the second time within weeks that Suber had left an unlit stove burner on.
The officers spoke with all involved and left without incident, Calo said.
They returned that same morning to investigate a missing person complaint and spoke with a tenant who said Suber had asked a relative about how to make a bomb and fix a gun, the assistant prosecutor said.
Then the real trouble began, he said.
As with all police shootings, the prosecutor reviewed the incident under guidelines established by New Jersey’s attorney general’s office:
Calo said the investigation by his Major Crimes Unit included, among other measures: interviews of the police officers involved, including Fort Lee and Leonia police officers; interviews of civilian witnesses, who had significant information on the development of the circumstances which evolved into the shooting incident as well as the incident itself; the collection of evidence at the scene; the review of ballistics evidence; and the review of videotape evidence that corroborated the witness statements.
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