Man pleads guilty to carjacking, armed robbery, faces lengthy prison sentence

NEWARK, NJ – A Newark man pleaded guilty on Friday, March 4, to charges of carjacking and armed robbery in connection with a crime spree in February 2015 that ended when state troopers spotted him in a stolen minivan and arrested him. During his arrest, one of the troopers shot and wounded the defendant when he drove the stolen minivan onto a sidewalk and toward the trooper.

Steven Montgomery, 32, of Newark, was shot by the state trooper on Feb. 9, 2015, on South 20th Street in Newark. With the Attorney General’s Directive on Police-Use-of-Force Investigations, the incident 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 Major Crime 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 according to the directive, because the undisputed facts showed that the use of force was justified according to the law.

Montgomery pleaded guilty on Friday, March 4, before Superior Court Judge Michael Ravin in Essex County to carjacking, first degree; armed robbery, two counts, first degree; aggravated assault, fourth degree; possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, second degree; and eluding, second degree. According to his plea agreement, the state will recommend that Montgomery be sentenced to 18 years in state prison, including more than 15 years of parole ineligibility. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Monday, June 27.

Deputy Attorney General Anthony P. Torntore was assigned to the investigation and took the guilty plea for the Attorney General’s Shooting Response Team.

With regard to the specific findings of the investigation, the investigation revealed that, at approximately 10:30 a.m. on Feb. 9, 2015, four members of the New Jersey State Police – “Officers 1, 2, 3, and 4” – were on patrol in Newark when they came upon a silver Honda Odyssey minivan driving south on South 20th Street near 18th Avenue. Officers 1 and 2 were driving in front of the silver minivan and Officers 3 and 4 were driving behind the minivan, which had been reported carjacked at gunpoint the previous morning. During a briefing of law enforcement on Feb. 9, the silver minivan was on a “hot list” for having been carjacked and for having been involved in a series of armed robberies in the Newark area.

Officer 2, who was driving one of the police vehicles, attempted to use his vehicle to block the roadway on South 20th Street in order to stop the silver minivan. Officer 1 exited the front passenger seat of Officer 2’s vehicle and drew his service weapon, while announcing himself as a law enforcement officer and instructing the driver of the silver minivan to stop. The driver of the minivan, later identified as Steven Montgomery, disregarded the commands of Officer 1 and proceeded to recklessly drive the minivan over a curb and on to the sidewalk on South 20th Street in the general direction of Officer 1. According to a statement given by Officer 1, as the silver minivan was driving on the sidewalk, Montgomery reached below the dashboard of the minivan. With knowledge of the vehicle’s activities during the previous 36 hours and believing that Montgomery was reaching for the weapon used in the carjacking of the minivan and subsequent armed robberies, Officer 1 fired two rounds from his duty weapon, striking Montgomery in the shoulder and wrist and causing non-fatal injuries.

After Officer 1 twice discharged his weapon, Montgomery continued to operate his van recklessly by driving on the sidewalk of South 20th Street at a high rate of speed. Officer 1 then fired two additional rounds, which did not strike Montgomery. Montgomery proceeded to make a series of turns and continued on for approximately 1 mile before arriving at the intersection of Grove Street and Nye Avenue in Irvington and crashing into a civilian’s vehicle at a stop light. The civilian suffered injuries and was transported to a local hospital. After the crash, Montgomery exited his vehicle and attempted to flee on foot, but was caught and arrested by Officers 3 and 4. A search of the crash site revealed a Sig Sauer handgun, a .177-caliber BB gun and a black ski mask belonging to Montgomery.

In a statement to law enforcement two days after his arrest, Montgomery indicated, at the time of the incident, he was on his way to get crack cocaine and PCP when he encountered the police. Montgomery saw Officer 1 exit his vehicle and panicked, causing him to drive his vehicle up on to the sidewalk of South 20th Street in the general direction of Officer 1 in order to get away. Montgomery acknowledged crashing his vehicle into a civilian’s vehicle and being arrested. He further acknowledged his involvement in the following crimes beginning with the theft of the silver minivan on Feb. 8:

  • Feb. 8, 2015, 12:54 a.m.: at this time, a businessman closed his restaurant in the area of 251 Stuyvesant Ave. in Newark and was walking to his silver 2011 Honda minivan when he was approached by Montgomery, who was wearing a black ski mask. Montgomery pointed a handgun at the victim and demanded money and the keys to the victim’s vehicle. The victim provided Montgomery with his cell phone and approximately $200 to $300. Montgomery then took the victim’s keys, entered the victim’s vehicle and drove away.
  • Feb. 8, 2015, 7:50 p.m.: the stolen silver minivan pulled into a Sunoco gas station at 264 Park Avenue in Newark. A Sunoco attendant approached the vehicle in order to service the car, when Montgomery exited the vehicle and pointed a gun at the attendant. Montgomery, who was wearing a full black ski mask, demanded money from the attendant, who provided approximately $170. Montgomery then re-entered the vehicle and fled the scene.
  • Feb. 9, 2015, 8:30 a.m.: a woman was cleaning snow off her vehicle when she was approached by Montgomery, who was driving the silver minivan. Montgomery pointed a handgun at the woman and stated “come over here or I will kill you.” The victim retreated to her vehicle and locked herself inside, where she called the police. Montgomery proceeded to bang on the window of the woman’s vehicle before returning to the silver minivan and leaving the area. This incident is the basis for the aggravated assault charge to which Montgomery pleaded guilty.
  • Feb. 9, 2015, 10 a.m.: Montgomery returned to the Park Avenue Sunoco in the silver minivan. Montgomery exited the vehicle and approached a bathroom outside the gas station, which was occupied by a male Sunoco employee. Montgomery banged on the door to the bathroom until the employee answered. Montgomery pointed a handgun at the victim and demanded money. Montgomery then took the jacket the employee was holding and removed approximately $350. Montgomery, who was wearing a black ski mask, fled the area in the silver minivan. This incident occurred approximately 30 minutes prior to the shooting incident involving Officer 1. This incident was further captured by security cameras at the Sunoco station and a neighboring Dunkin’ Donuts.

Officer 1 provided a statement to law enforcement on Feb. 13, 2015, which was consistent with the facts as set forth previously. Officer 1 indicated that he and his team were briefed on the morning of Feb. 9 and were made aware of a silver minivan that had been carjacked at gunpoint and used in a series of armed robberies. Officer 1 stated that he confirmed that the silver minivan driving behind his and Officer 2’s vehicle was the vehicle from the “hot sheet” provided to him that morning prior to attempting to stop the vehicle. Officer 1 further stated he was wearing his badge around his neck and had his duty weapon unholstered, while giving clear orders to the driver of the minivan to stop. Officer 1 stated, as the minivan was driving in his direction, he observed the driver reaching for an unknown object below the dashboard of the vehicle. Officer 1 stated he was in fear for his own safety, the safety of his fellow officers and the safety of the general public when he fired at the driver of the minivan. According to Officer 1, this belief was based on his knowledge that the minivan had been carjacked at gunpoint the day before and had been involved in several armed robberies just hours earlier.

Officers 2, 3, and 4 each provided statements to law enforcement which were consistent with the statement provided by Officer 1. Each officer heard the gunshots fired by Officer 1, but were unable to determine who fired the shots at the time they were fired. Officer 3 stated that he observed Montgomery’s minivan drive aggressively up onto the sidewalk on South 20th Street in the direction of Officer 1. Officers 2 and 4 were not able to observe whether Montgomery’s vehicle drove in the direction of Officer 1 from where they were positioned at the time of the incident.

With respect to the police-involved shooting, after analyzing all of the facts and circumstances of this incident, it was concluded by the Division of Criminal Justice that Officer 1 used an acceptable level of force in pointing and firing his weapon at Montgomery. The facts and circumstances reasonably led Officer 1 to believe that the use of force in this situation was necessary to prevent the escape of an individual who had recently committed several violent crimes using a firearm.

This entire matter has been reviewed by Honig and all portions were complied with of the Attorney General’s Law Enforcement Directive regarding uniform statewide procedures and best practices for conducting police use-of-force investigations that were in effect during the course of the investigation.

 

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