Law sponsored by EO assemblywoman put to use after recent shooting

EAST ORANGE, NJ — The law Gov. Phil Murphy signed in January, based on Bill S1036, which was sponsored by Assemblywoman Britnee Timberlake, of East Orange, and Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly, of Paterson, is now playing a central role in Attorney General Gurbir Grewal’s investigation into Irvington’s Aug. 8 police-involved shooting, which led to that municipality’s fourth homicide of the year.

“This investigation is being conducted pursuant to a law enacted in January 2019, Senate Bill 1036, which requires that the Attorney General’s Office conduct investigations of a person’s death that occurs during an encounter with a law enforcement officer acting in the officer’s official capacity or while the decedent is in custody,” said Grewal on Aug. 8. “No further information is being released at this time.”

On Aug. 8, Grewal, Irvington Mayor Tony Vauss and Irvington Public Safety Director Tracy Bowers announced the township had suffered its fourth homicide of the year in an incident that left two dead that day: the victim and the man who shot him, the latter killed by officers responding to the Myrtle Avenue crime scene at approximately 11:30 a.m.

“The 20-year-old who was fatally shot is Jason Caudle of Irvington,” Attorney General’s Office spokesman Peter Aseltine said, identifying the victim Aug. 13. “There is no other new information to release. The investigation is ongoing.”

Vauss concurred.

“Unfortunately, it does count as a homicide,” said Vauss on Aug. 12. “But there’s nothing we can do to suppress that. It wasn’t random. He knew the guy he shot,” he added of the shooter.

The current investigation by the Attorney General’s Office fits appropriately within the laws enacted by the state Legislature in January.

“As many great civil rights leaders have said: ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,’” said Timberlake on Wednesday, Jan. 30. “Today is a great day for justice, civil and human rights. I want to thank Gov. Murphy for proving yet again his dedication to being progressive, not just in words but in action. Signing this bill, which requires that an independent investigation occur when a person dies in police custody or during an interaction with law enforcement, is a great leap toward authoritative accountability. When administered, this law should be of assistance to officers who are doing the right thing while also sifting out biases that exist amongst those armed with power.”

Timberlake also said she has personal reasons for co-sponsoring the bill that became law.

“As the mother of a son, it was important to me to fight for this bill to become a law, a law that will deter the use of excessive force and save lives,” said Timberlake. “Thank you to the advocacy groups who have supported this law, and to the Assembly and Senate leadership, fellow sponsors in both houses, past and present. Without their leadership and courage, this would not have been possible. Lastly, to the families of those who have unwarrantedly lost their lives amidst this nationwide issue, here’s to justice.”

On Thursday, Aug. 8, Grewal announced the Attorney General’s Shooting Response Task Force is conducting an investigation of the fatal officer-involved shooting and identified the shooter killed as Kaizen Crossen, 39, of Irvington.

“Officers of the Irvington Police Department responded to a shooting in which a gunman shot and fatally wounded another civilian,” a release from the Attorney General’s Office read. “During the encounter with the gunman, three officers were shot and sustained injuries that were not life-threatening. Multiple officers fired at the gunman, who was fatally wounded.”

“Crossen, who was armed with a rifle, had shot and fatally wounded another civilian, a 20-year-old man. That man was not armed,” it continued. “When the first Irvington police officer arrived, he encountered Crossen and shots were exchanged. The officer was struck in the lower part of his legs. Additional Irvington officers arrived at the scene and multiple officers exchanged gunfire with Crossen.”

Grewal said the shootout between Crossen and Irvington police officers ended with the shooter dead and three wounded officers, one very seriously.

“Two officers suffered non-life threatening gunshot wounds in those exchanges, and Crossen was fatally wounded,” said Grewal on Thursday, Aug. 8. “Crossen and the man he shot were taken to University Hospital in Newark, where they were pronounced dead. The three officers were also taken to University Hospital, where all were reported in stable condition.”

According to the new state law sponsored by Timberlake and Wimberly, the Attorney General’s Office has jurisdiction over fatal police-involved shooting investigations in New Jersey.

“The officers responded heroically in the face of danger. I am proud of them all,” said Bowers on Aug. 12. “I’m also thankful that there were not more casualties during this incident. I’m praying for all of the families and officers who were negatively impacted by this event. Finally, I appreciate and thank all of the law enforcement agencies and first responders who assisted us.”

Vauss said he was proud of how the police officers and Irvington Public Safety Division handled a deadly situation that could have potentially been much worse.

“Our police officers are hailed as heroes,” said Vauss. “They responded quickly to an incident, which is directly a part of the Summer Crime Initiative, which is why the response time was so incredible.”

Grewal said the investigation into the Aug. 8 incident is ongoing and no further information is being released at this time. But Vauss contributed his own questions.

“The AG’s Office is still handling everything,” he said. “An interesting thing is the guy lived there on Myrtle Avenue. He wasn’t from someplace else. He got into some kind of confrontation with somebody in his building. Why would you need hundreds of rounds of ammo and body armor for one person?”