LAKE HOPATCONG, N.J. -- A State Police trooper was justified in shooting a Lake Hopatcong man who charged at him and his colleagues as they tried to arrest him for assaulting his girlfriend, New Jersey Attorney General Christopher Porrino said Tuesday.
"An officer may use deadly force in New Jersey when the officer reasonably believes it is immediately necessary to protect the officer or another person from imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm," Porrino said.
In this case, he said, "the facts and circumstances reasonably led the officer to believe his actions were immediately necessary to protect himself and his fellow officers from death or serious injury."
The incident began last May when troopers from the Netcong State Police barracks received a report of a woman walking along the shoulder of Route 80.
"When a trooper responded to assist the woman and bring her to the State Police barracks, she reported that she had been assaulted by her boyfriend while they were driving on I-80, and he had made her get out of the car," Porrino said, adding that the woman "had visible injuries on her face and body."
Her boyfriend was identified as Matthew Gerndt, 36, of Lake Hopatcong, he said.
Porrino gave this account:
Five troopers responded to Gerndt’s rented residence on Brady Road in Lake Hopatcong to arrest him on an assault charge.
They saw Gerndt outside the rear of the residence on a patio, which was accessed by a sliding glass door from his basement apartment.
A trooper identified himself to Gerndt as State Police, but Gerndt "retreated into the house and closed the patio door."
Troopers approached the patio door and again identified themselves as State Police, but Gerndt did not respond. Gerndt "moved a curtain and looked out at the troopers but did not open the door."
The troopers went to the front door, where a landlord let them in on a landing between the two levels of the split-level home. T
"They were directed down a set of stairs to Gerndt’s apartment, which included a narrow hallway and six closed doors.
"The hallway was dark except for dim light from the landing and flashlights held by [the first trooper] and a second trooper who also descended the stairs to Gerndt’s apartment and entered the narrow hallway. The two troopers began knocking on all of the doors and commanding Gerndt to come out, with no response.
"With Trooper 1 in the lead and the second trooper following him, Trooper 1 pointed to a door leading to a recreation room, which was the room leading to the patio, and began to pry the door open.
"At that point, Trooper 1 felt a rush of air on the back of his neck as the door behind him was yanked open by Gerndt.
"Trooper 1 heard the second trooper yell 'Watch your back!'
"Trooper 1 turned and raised his left arm to defend himself as Gerndt allegedly rushed him, driving him back against a wall of the narrow hallway.
"Trooper 1 had already drawn his service pistol and was holding it at his right hip when he was charged. He fired twice while Gerndt was assaulting him. One round struck Gerndt in the side of his left buttock and exited toward the rear of his left buttock.
Gerndt retreated into the bedroom, followed by the two troopers.
He "continued to resist ineffectually until he was handcuffed."
The troopers treated Gerndt and called for an ambulance.
Gernt was taken to Morristown Medical Center, where he was treated before being released the same day.
Police charged Gerndt -- who had a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .29% -- with assault and resisting arrest.
"None of the troopers were injured," Porrino said.
NOTE: In New Jersey, all investigations into police deadly force incidents are governed by an Attorney General directive – issued in 2006 and strengthened in 2015 – that establishes strict procedures for conducting these investigations. When a state- or county-level officer uses deadly force, the case is investigated by the Attorney General’s Shooting Response Team, made up of deputy attorneys general and detectives of the Division of Criminal Justice, as well as detectives of the State Police Homicide Unit, all of whom operate independently of their usual chain of command and report directly to the Director of the Division of Criminal Justice or a designee.
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