Grand jury declines to criminally charge Newark officers involved in death in custody

NEWARK, NJ — A state grand jury has voted not to file any criminal charges at the conclusion of its deliberations regarding the death of Juan Restrepo, 73, of Summit, who died while in the custody of the Newark Police Department on June 15, 2020, according to a Sept. 15 press release.

The death in custody was investigated by the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office with oversight from the state Office of Public Integrity and Accountability and presented to New Jersey residents called to serve on the grand jury in accordance with Directive 2019-4, the “Independent Prosecutor Directive,” issued in 2019. In July 2021, OPIA issued standard operating procedures to ensure that these grand jury presentations are conducted in a neutral, objective manner, and with appropriate transparency regarding the process, consistent with the directive.

According to the release, the investigation included interviews of witnesses, review of video footage and autopsy results from the medical examiner. After hearing testimony and evidence from the investigation, the grand jury concluded its deliberations Sept. 13 and voted “no bill,” meaning the grand jury concluded that no criminal charges should be filed against the officers involved.

According to the investigation, at approximately 9:30 a.m. on the morning of June 15, 2020, Restrepo was approached by Newark police Officers Lorenzo Orsi and Lucfred Petion, who were responding to a report of an intoxicated man behind the wheel of a car. Restrepo was taken into custody on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. He was then transported to an NJ Transit Station where officials attempted to obtain a breathalyzer reading. A reading was not able to be obtained. Restrepo was subsequently transferred back to a waiting NPD vehicle. Shortly after the vehicle began to drive away, an officer noticed a change in Restrepo’s condition. As a result, officers stopped the vehicle and removed Restrepo from it. Officers and a woman identifying herself as a nurse rendered medical aid to him before EMTs arrived. He was taken to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced deceased at 1:17 p.m. An autopsy was performed and the medical examiner concluded that the manner of death was natural and the cause of death was atherosclerotic and hypertensive cardiovascular disease. No alcohol or illegal drug was present in Restrepo’s body.

A 2019 law, P.L. 2019, c. 1, requires the Attorney General’s Office to 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. It requires that all such investigations be presented to a grand jury to determine if the evidence supports the return of an indictment against the officer or officers involved.

A conflicts check was conducted pursuant to the Independent Prosecutor Directive and no actual or potential conflict of interest was found involving any individual assigned to the investigation. Prior to presentation to the grand jury, the investigation was reviewed by OPIA Executive Director Thomas Eicher.