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Law enforcement authorities in New Jersey are finally releasing information regarding the killing of 28-year-old Maurice Gordon by a white state trooper. Gordon was fatally shot during a traffic stop on the Garden State Parkway in Bass River, New Jersey, on May 23.
The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office released several police dash-cam videos and 911 calls regarding the shooting of Gordon, an unarmed Black man. On May 22, a concerned friend in Poughkeepsie, New York, called 911 and asked that someone do a welfare check on Gordon.
“He came in and he looked really panicked and everything,” the friend told the 911 dispatcher. “He just said he was going for a drive, he wouldn’t tell me where he was going. He looked very, very panicked…he said something about a paranormal experience.”
Gordon had a total of four interactions with police over the span of 28 hours after his friend’s 911 call.
At 6:26 a.m. on May 23, Sgt. Randall Wetzel pulled Gordon over for allegedly driving 110 mph on the Garden State Parkway in Bass River, New Jersey. Dash cam footage of the stop shows Wetzel telling Gordon he has called a tow truck after Gordon’s vehicle becomes disabled during the traffic stop.
Wetzel asked Gordon if he would prefer to sit in the trooper’s back seat while they waited for a tow truck to arrive. Gordon accepts the offer and for more than 20 minutes sits in the vehicle. Seconds after Wetzel asked Gordon if he wanted a mask, the victim exited the police car. Wetzel yelled at Gordon to get back into the car and a confrontation ensued.
A statement from the attorney general’s office claimed that Gordon attempted to enter the driver seat of Wetzel’s vehicle twice. Wetzel deployed pepper spray after the first attempt and a physical struggle occurred. During the struggle, Wetzel fired six times, striking and killing Gordon. After shooting, Wetzel placed Gordon in handcuffs.
“We got in a fight on the side of the road. He tried running into my car ….He grabbed my gun. We were fighting with my gun and I shot him,” Wetzel said over the radio after the shooting.
An hour after Wetzel first pulled Gordon over, a state trooper tried to provide Gordon aid but did not detect a pulse. At 7:28 a.m., EMS arrived on the scene and pronounced Gordon dead. A cause of death has not been released yet.
Where Does the Case Stand Now?
New Jersey law mandates that all deaths involving law enforcement officers be investigated by the attorney general’s office. On June 8, officials released the state trooper’s name, as well as audio and video recordings. State law requires auto and video recordings in use-of-force investigations be released to the public once the initial phase of the investigation is completed.
Gordon’s family expressed outrage at the public release of the dash cam footage before getting the opportunity to watch it. Attorney William O. Wagstaff, who is representing the family, told the Burlington County Times that the attorney general’s office did not give the family enough opportunity to see the video.
Wagstaff said Gordon’s mother and sister were “outraged” they could not see the footage before it was released to the public. “They were hurt. They were beside themselves. Both of them were in my arms crying uncontrollably. Because of what they felt was the further victimization of this family,” he said.
The attorney said the attorney general’s office asked the family to travel from New York to the Whippany, New Jersey office on short notice to see the footage, the Burlington County Times reported. Wagstaff said the family denied the request, prompting the attorney general’s office to email him a link to the footage. He requested they hold off releasing it until the family could see it.
Just hours later it was released to the public, Wagstaff told the Burlington County Times that he believes there is more footage of the incident that has not been released.
In response, the attorney general’s office claimed that it gave the family multiple ways for them to see the video and listen to the recordings but the family did not act.
The investigation into Gordon’s killing, which is being conducted by the attorney general’s Integrity Bureau in the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability and the New Jersey State Police Major Crime Bureau, is ongoing. The attorney general’s office said it was not releasing any other information at this time. The office did not respond to requests for additional information.
Wetzel was placed on administrative leave. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced on June 8 that a grand jury would investigate Gordon’s death to determine whether Wetzel will face criminal charges, according to Vox. Tallies maintained by The Washington Post reveal that 463 people were fatally shot by police in 2020 as of June 7.
How to Push For Justice?
- A petition on change.org calling for charges against Sgt. Wetzel can be signed here.
- You can donate to a funeral fund on GoFundMe here.
Gordon was killed just two days before George Floyd was murdered by police in Minneapolis on May 25. Floyd’s death sparked protests around the country against police brutality and systemic racism in the United States.
At the end of each story about the Black Lives Matter protests occurring around the country, we will share the following information on how best to protect yourself:
Protecting Yourself From Tear Gas
- Before being exposed: Do not wear contact lenses or makeup. This could trap the tear gas on your skin and eyes. Try to wear protective goggles if possible. Remember to wear a mask, which you should already be wearing to protect yourself and others from COVID-19. Wear long sleeves and long pants to protect as much of your skin as possible.
- If exposed: Get yourself out of the area immediately. The CDC recommends seeking higher ground as most Riot Control Agents (RCAs) are heavier than air.
- Clothing: The RCAs will have contaminated your clothing, be sure to remove the clothes as soon as possible and discard. Clothing that needs to be removed over the head should be cut instead. The CDC recommends wearing rubber gloves and putting the contaminated clothes in a bag and then seal that bag in another bag.
- Exposed Skin: The International News Safety Institute recommends washing with soap and water. First, shower in cold water and then in warm water. Do not bathe. Wash your face as soon as you can, but do not rub the skin as you don’t want to activate the powder in tear gas. Do not rinse your eyes and face with milk, instead use water.
Protecting Yourself: Technology Edition
- Smartphone: Smartphones can easily give out information that police can later use against protesters. Turn off your location data and remove facial and fingerprint recognition. If you need to communicate with friends or family, be sure to download and use the Signal app, which encrypts messages. WIRED recommends Android users head to Settings, then Security and make sure the Encrypt Disk option is selected.
- Social Media: Do not post photos or videos with geotags and consider blurring the faces of protesters when sharing information on social media.
- Police Conduct App: The ACLU has created the Mobile Justice app to record police conduct. You can learn more about the app here.
- Identifying Clothing or Tattoos: It is highly recommended you wear clothing that is not easily identifiable. Be sure to cover any tattoos that can be used by law enforcement to identify you.
- In Case You’re Arrested: Write the number down of a lawyer, organization or friend/family member that you can call if you’re arrested on your skin. Be sure to have a form of ID in your pocket.
About the Author
Nicole Rojas is a senior writer for The North Star. She has published in various publications, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas.