The Office of the Attorney General also publicly revealed Monday afternoon the name of the officer who shot Gordon: Sgt. Randall Wetzel. The Bass River Township shooting remains under investigation, according to the OAG’s news release, and Gov. Phil Murphy said a grand jury will convene to hear the case.
Wetzel stopped Gordon, of Poughkeepsie, New York, for speeding about 6:30 a.m. May 23 on the Garden State Parkway in Bass River, authorities said. Gordon’s vehicle became disabled in the left shoulder, and Wetzel called a tow truck.
The officer asked Gordon if he would prefer to sit in the back seat of the police vehicle, and Gordon said he would, according to authorities. The OAG said Gordon attempted to enter the driver’s seat before the altercation. But the actions aren’t clear from the recording alone.
State officials released 12 audio and video recordings, including a video where Wetzel shoots Gordon. You can see the video here. Viewer discretion is advised for graphic material.
The video shows a struggle between Wetzel and Gordon outside of the trooper’s car. Shots can be heard before Gordon is seen falling to the ground. The Office of Attorney General provided a partial transcript (see below).
The investigation into Gordon’s death comes during a worldwide wave of protests against police brutality and systemic racism. The death of George Floyd, which happened two days after Gordon died, happened at the hands of Minneapolis police and sparked the surge in protests.
William O. Wagstaff III, an attorney representing Gordon’s family, told NJ Advance Media that he understands the anger people are expressing in protests, and he says it’s because of situations like this. “There’s so much wrong with the way police police people of color, and this is an example of that,” Wagstaff told NJ Advance Media.
The OAG announced May 24 it would conduct an investigation of a “fatal shooting involving the New Jersey State Police.” The press release identified Gordon as the decedent but had little detail regarding the circumstances of the police shooting.
It was not immediately clear whether the incident affected Wetzel’s current job status or duties. The NJSP did not return comment.
Here is information culled from the video and transcripts provided by the OAG:
- Wetzel stopped Gordon for speeding at about 6:30 a.m. May 23 on the Garden State Parkway in Bass River. Gordon’s vehicle became disabled in the left shoulder, and Wetzel called a tow truck. Wetzel asked Gordon if he would prefer to sit in the back seat of the police vehicle, and Gordon said he would, according to the OAG.
- While Gordon sits in the police vehicle, Wetzel asks Gordon if he would like to wear a mask. Gordon appears to say, “Yeah.” Wetzel asks Gordon if he had a mask in his car, and Gordon appears to shake his head.
- A few seconds later, Gordon exits the vehicle and is mostly off camera. A confrontation can be heard in which Wetzel yells, “Get in the car. Get in the f—— car.”
- Although it isn’t clear from the recording, the OAG says Gordon attempted to enter the driver’s seat. Wetzel deployed pepper spray after the first attempt.
- The video appears to show the two getting into a struggle before gunshots can be heard, and Gordon falling to the ground.
- A state trooper attempted to provide aid to Gordon at 7:25 a.m. but didn’t detect a pulse. A second state trooper tried administering aid shortly after, and EMS pronounced Gordon dead at 7:28 a.m.
The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner is completing an examination into the circumstances of Gordon’s death.
Murphy addressed the incident during his Monday news conference, offering condolences to the family and any others who died as a result of a police encounter.
“Any life lost is a loss to be mourned and grieved,” Murphy said, adding that most states don’t release footage of an encounter until the investigation is complete.
Even though Attorney General Gurbir Grewal completed an investigation, Wagstaff cast doubt on the independence of the probe.
“When there’s a police-involved shooting, it’s normally a municipal police officer,” Wagstaff told Patch. “In that circumstance, to have the AG’s office as the independent prosecutor makes sense. Here you have the attorney general doing an investigation on the state police. So you have a state lawyer doing an investigation into the state police force.”
Gordon wasn’t armed, according to the attorney. But the OAG hadn’t provided Gordon’s family with many details regarding the incident as of Monday morning. Wagstaff criticized Grewal and Murphy for revealing little information to the family before releasing findings to the public.
“We still don’t know the name of his killer,” Wagstaff said before the OAG released his name Monday. “We still don’t know if Maurice died on the side of the Garden State Parkway, in an ambulance, in a hospital, whether or not they attempted to do fundamental first aid.”
Gordon’s family and their attorney had only been able to view a “limited portion” of the police video of the incident, a representative for the family’s attorney said Saturday.
But Wagstaff accused state officials of trying to spin the story and defend the officer’s actions by showing Gordon’s last moments to the public while giving his family little chance to view the video.
“The circumstances in which the family is allowed to view it, from what I’m understanding,” Wagstaff says, “is that they have to come to the AG’s office and sit in a room with a bunch of strangers who seemingly are trying to cover the killer’s tracks … instead of sending the video to the family so that they can watch it in private and mourn amongst themselves.”
Gordon was raised in Spanish Town, Jamaica, and came to the United States, where his father lived, at age 19, according to nj.com. Growing up, he sang in church choir and was close with his baby sister.
Gordon was studying chemistry at Dutchess Community College. He liked his job delivering food because he got to chat with new people, his mother told nj.com.
Here is the OAG’s description of each recording provided:
- Recording 01: “911 Call – Dutchess County (redacted).” At approximately 3:23 a.m. on May 22, 2020, Mr. Gordon’s friend called 911 from Poughkeepsie, New York to express concerns about Mr. Gordon’s wellbeing and whereabouts. Towards the end of the recording, the 911 operator transferred Mr. Gordon’s friend to the Poughkeepsie Police Department. (NOTE: Personal information regarding the caller and Mr. Gordon has been redacted; an unredacted version of the recording will be provided to Mr. Gordon’s family.)
- Recording 02: “911 Call – Poughkeepsie (redacted).” This audio recording is a continuation of Recording 1, picking up once Mr. Gordon’s friend was connected to the Poughkeepsie Police Department. (NOTE: Personal information regarding the caller and Mr. Gordon has been redacted; an unredacted version of the recording will be provided to Mr. Gordon’s family.)
Interaction in Brick
- Recording 03: “Red Bank MVR.” At approximately 3:13 a.m. on May 23, 2020, an off-duty Red Bank Police Officer driving a police vehicle pulled up near Mr. Gordon’s car, which had run out of gas and was stopped in the middle lane of the southbound Garden State Parkway near Exit 91 in Brick, N.J. The interaction was recorded by the mobile video recorder (MVR) attached to the dashboard of the Red Bank patrol vehicle, as depicted in Recording 3. The Red Bank officer called a tow truck. (NOTE: A short time later, an off-duty State Trooper driving to work in his personal car pulled over to assist Mr. Gordon and the Red Bank officer. The off-duty State Trooper provided assistance and then departed. Because the State Trooper was in his personal vehicle, there is no MVR footage of this encounter.)
- Recording 04: “Stop 1 MVR – Pt. A.” A short time after the off-duty Trooper departed the scene, a second, on-duty State Trooper pulled up to assist Mr. Gordon and the Red Bank officer. Because this second State Trooper was in his patrol vehicle, the encounter was captured by his vehicle’s MVR, as depicted in Recording 4. That second State Trooper set out flares and departed.
- Recording 05: “Red Bank MVR.” The second State Trooper later returned to the scene where Mr. Gordon was stopped with the tow truck driver on the southbound Garden State Parkway in Brick. Recording 5 is MVR footage captured by the State Trooper’s patrol vehicle during this encounter.
Interaction in Waretown (includes visit to Wawa in Barnegat)
- Recording 06: “Stop 2 MVR.” At approximately 4:54 a.m. on May 23, 2020, a different State Trooper pulled up behind Mr. Gordon’s car, which was stopped in the left lane of the southbound Garden State Parkway near Exit 72 in Waretown, New Jersey. The Trooper called a tow truck, set out flares, and then departed.
- Recording 07: “Wawa (redacted).” After the State Trooper departed but before the tow truck arrived, a civilian vehicle pulled alongside Mr. Gordon’s car and the occupants offered Mr. Gordon a ride to a nearby Wawa convenience store to get gas. A surveillance camera inside the Wawa (in Barnegat, New Jersey) captured Mr. Gordon and others entering the store at approximately 5:33 a.m. Afterwards, Mr. Gordon returned to his vehicle and continued driving southbound on the Garden State Parkway. Customer and employee faces are blurred. Screen shots where Mr. Gordon does not appear are blurred.
Interaction in Stafford
- Recording 08: “Stop 3 MVR.” At approximately 6:13 a.m., a State Trooper stopped Mr. Gordon for speeding on the southbound Garden State Parkway near Exit 62 in Stafford, New Jersey. The Trooper issued a ticket to Mr. Gordon, who had allegedly been driving 101 miles per hour.
Interaction in Bass River
- Recording 09: “Stop 4 MVR – Pt. A.” At approximately 6:26 a.m., Sgt. Wetzel stopped Mr. Gordon for speeding on the southbound Garden State Parkway near Exit 50 in Bass River, New Jersey. Sgt. Wetzel started to write a ticket for Mr. Gordon, who had allegedly been driving 110 miles per hour. During the stop, Mr. Gordon’s vehicle became disabled in the left shoulder and Sgt. Wetzel called a tow truck. While they waited for the tow truck to arrive, Sgt. Wetzel asked Mr. Gordon if he would prefer to sit in the back seat of Sgt. Wetzel’s vehicle, and Mr. Gordon stated that he would. (NOTE: The beginning of the recording depicts footage from Sgt. Wetzel’s forward-facing MVR camera, which shows Mr. Gordon’s car stopped on the southbound Parkway. Once Mr. Gordon enters the back seat of Sgt. Wetzel’s vehicle, the car’s backward-facing MVR camera becomes the primary camera view. A diagram depicting the approximate location of the two vehicles is included with the materials posted as part of this release.)
- Recording 10: “Stop 4 MVR – Pt. B (redacted).” Recording 10 is a continuation of the MVR footage captured by Sgt. Wetzel’s vehicle, as described in Recording 9. After a total of approximately 21 minutes inside Sgt. Wetzel’s vehicle, Mr. Gordon exited the vehicle when Sgt. Wetzel attempted to offer him a mask, resulting in a confrontation with Sgt. Wetzel. During this confrontation, Mr. Gordon attempted to enter the driver seat of Sgt. Wetzel’s vehicle on two occasions. After the first occasion, Sgt. Wetzel deployed oleoresin capsicum (OC) spray. After the second occasion, Sgt. Wetzel removed Mr. Gordon from the vehicle and, after a physical struggle on the left shoulder of the southbound Parkway, Sgt. Wetzel shot and killed Mr. Gordon with his service weapon. Sgt. Wetzel fired six times and then placed handcuffs on Mr. Gordon. (NOTE: The backward-facing camera footage shows a reversed or “mirror image” of the events captured because the camera was set to record in that manner. Consistent with Department practice, the audio component of the recording has been partially redacted to remove the sound that Mr. Gordon makes immediately upon being shot.)
- Recording 11: “Enhanced Clip (redacted).” Recording 11 contains a two-minute segment of Recording 10, but zoomed in on the view out the back window of Sgt. Wetzel’s vehicle. As with Recording 10, the audio component of the recording has been partially redacted.
- Recording 12: “NJSP Radio Transmissions.” Recording 12 contains audio recordings of law enforcement radio transmissions regarding the events in Bass River. Because the radio system only records audio when an individual is speaking, the recording is “compressed,” insofar as it does not include the portions of the encounter when no one was communicating over the radio system.
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