A separate state grand jury found the state trooper who fired at the defendant was justified in his actions
TRENTON – A state grand jury has indicted a man on charges including attempted murder for allegedly firing a handgun at a motorist during an incident in Buena, N.J., on May 2, 2018. A state trooper later fired his service weapon at the alleged gunman, Luis Figueroa, when Figueroa allegedly pointed a gun at him. Nobody was injured in the shootings. A separate state grand jury found the state trooper was justified in his actions against Figueroa.
Under the Attorney General’s Independent Prosecutor Directive, the use of deadly force by the state trooper was investigated by the Attorney General’s Shooting Response Team (“SRT”), made up of investigators from the Division of Criminal Justice and New Jersey 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. On Wednesday, Nov. 14, a state grand jury heard testimony and evidence from the SRT’s investigation into the police-involved shooting and voted “no true bill,” finding that the state trooper was justified in firing at Figueroa and declining to file any charges against the state trooper. The trooper has been identified as Trooper Scott Montgomery, and the service weapon involved was a Glock 19 (9mm).
A separate state grand jury voted yesterday, Nov. 15, to indict Figueroa, 29, of Blackwood, N.J., on the following counts:
- First-Degree Attempted Murder,
- Second-Degree Aggravated Assault,
- Third-Degree Aggravated Assault,
- Fourth-Degree Aggravated Assault,
- Second-Degree Unlawful Possession of a Handgun,
- Second-Degree Possession of a Weapon for an Unlawful Purpose,
- Second-Degree Possession of a Weapon While Committing a Narcotics Offense,
- Third-Degree Receiving Stolen Property,
- Third-Degree Possession of Narcotics With Intent to Distribute,
- Third-Degree Possession of Narcotics With Intent to Distribute,
- Third-Degree Possession of Narcotics,
- Third-Degree Possession of Narcotics, and
- Fourth-Degree Resisting Arrest.
Figueroa was staying at the Rodeway Inn on Tuckahoe Road in Buena prior to the shootings. Shortly after 1 p.m. on May 2, 2018, Figueroa allegedly fired multiple rounds from a handgun in the hotel parking lot. He allegedly fired one of the rounds at a hotel employee as the male employee was driving into the parking lot. Figueroa was involved in a dispute with another man whom he had allegedly threatened to shoot, and it is alleged that Figueroa mistakenly believed the driver was that man. The shot missed the driver and his car. Figueroa then walked out to Wheat Road, where he allegedly pointed the gun at a second man, a motorist driving on the roadway. No shots were fired at that time.
The second victim drove to a nearby Wawa store on South Harding Highway, where he told a gas attendant that there was a man walking around with a gun. Another Wawa customer also reported seeing a man with a gun. At 1:10 p.m., the Franklin Township Police Department received a call of shots fired at the Wawa. Officers from the New Jersey State Police, Franklin Township Police Department, and Vineland Police Department responded to the scene. They quickly determined that the shots were fired at the Rodeway Inn, not the Wawa, and that the shooter fled on foot.
Trooper Montgomery arrived at the hotel with the lights and sirens of his marked patrol car activated. After checking the hotel, he drove around the area looking for the suspected shooter. He located Figueroa near the Cranberry Run retirement community and noted that Figueroa fit the description of the shooter. Trooper Montgomery, who was in uniform, exited his patrol car, stood behind the door, and ordered Figueroa to stop and show his hands. Instead, Figueroa allegedly fled toward a wooded area.
Prior to the trooper’s arrival, an employee of the retirement community encountered Figueroa and learned that Figueroa was armed with a handgun. As Trooper Montgomery pursued Figueroa toward the woods, he encountered that employee, who warned him that Figueroa had a handgun. Trooper Montgomery radioed his location and said he was in a foot pursuit. Trooper Montgomery shouted commands for Figueroa to stop and get on the ground, but Figueroa continued to run away. Once Figueroa reached the tree line, he allegedly turned to face Trooper Montgomery head on and pointed the handgun at him with both hands on the gun. Trooper Montgomery immediately unholstered his service weapon and fired three rounds at Figueroa. Figueroa was not hit by any of the rounds. Trooper Montgomery reported that he fired because he believed his life was in danger.
After the shots were fired by Trooper Montgomery, Figueroa turned and ran into the wooded area. Trooper Montgomery followed and caught up to Figueroa, who had fallen down. Trooper Montgomery handcuffed Figueroa and waited for back up. During a search incident to the arrest, officers recovered a stolen Keltec 9mm handgun from Figueroa, as well as a small handbag containing approximately .32 ounces of heroin mixed with fentanyl and approximately .18 ounces of cocaine. When a search warrant was executed at the hotel room where Figueroa was staying, detectives found a scale, latex gloves and packaging materials, including wax folds and baggies. They also found a bag of white powder, which tested negative for narcotics and apparently was being used as a cutting agent.
Deputy Attorney General Rachael Weeks presented the indictment to the state grand jury for the Attorney General’s Shooting Response Team.
The first-degree attempted murder charge carries a sentence of 10 to 20 years in state prison, with a period of parole ineligibility equal to 85 percent of the sentence imposed, and a fine of up to $200,000. Second-degree charges carry a sentence of five to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $150,000, while third-degree charges carry a sentence of three to five years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000. Fourth-degree charges carry a sentence of up to 18 months in prison and a fine of $10,000.
The indictment is merely an accusation and the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
The indictment was handed up to Superior Court Judge Peter E. Warshaw Jr. in Mercer County, who assigned the case to Atlantic County, where Figueroa will be ordered to appear at a later date for arraignment.
In New Jersey, all investigations of police deadly force incidents are governed by the Attorney General's Independent Prosecutor Directive, issued in 2006 and strengthened in 2015, which establishes strict procedures for conducting such investigations. It requires the Attorney General to review all deadly force investigations, and in some cases conduct them as well. In this case, the investigation was conducted directly by the Attorney General’s Shooting Response Team. The directive further provides that unless the undisputed facts indicate the use of force was justified under the law, the circumstances of the incident must ultimately be presented to a grand jury, composed of 23 civilians, for its independent review.
The Independent Prosecutor Directive is posted on the Attorney General’s website at the following link: www.nj.gov/oag/dcj/agguide/directives/2006-5_SRT_OIS.pdf.
Further information about how officer-involved shootings are investigated in New Jersey under the directive is found at this link:
Defense Attorney: Stephen F. Funk, Esq., Atlantic City, N.J.