Video shows struggle before New Jersey trooper fired on man
A New Jersey state trooper fired his handgun six times, killing a New York state man after a struggle erupted during a traffic stop on the Garden State Parkway last month, video released Monday showed.
About a dozen audio and video recordings from the May 23 traffic stop in Bass River, New Jersey, shed more light on the death of 28-year-old Maurice Gordon, a black man from Poughkeepsie, whose death has sparked an investigation by the state attorney general and will lead the case to be presented to a grand jury under a 2019 law aimed at holding law enforcement accountable.
The trooper was identified for the first time Monday as Sgt. Randall Wetzel, according to New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, who said the shooting is still being investigated.
Also released were audio recordings of a 911 call from the day before the shooting made by one of Gordon’s friends, who said Gordon had left his house in Poughkeepsie in the middle of the night looking “really panicked.”
The release of the videos came amid global protests of police use of force against black people, touched off by the death of George Floyd, a black man, who was killed two days after Gordon died when a white Minneapolis officer held him down with his knee on Floyd’s neck.
The attorney for Gordon’s family, William O. Wagstaff III, said in a phone interview he thought race was a factor in Gordon’s death.
“If Maurice Gordon was a white male he’d still be alive,” Wagstaff said.
A message seeking whether Wetzel had an attorney was left with the attorney general’s office.
The video shows Wetzel, a white man, pulling Gordon over about 6:30 a.m. and telling him he stopped him because he was going 110 miles per hour.
Gordon had been pulled over about 15 minutes earlier and given a ticket for going 101 miles per hour on the Parkway, and before that was helped by police to get a tow truck when he apparently ran out of gas, according to Grewal.
Before the shooting, Gordon pulled over on the left side of the road, and Wetzel can be heard telling him it was not a safe spot and he should move his vehicle over more. Gordon is heard saying his car won’t start, and he tried unsuccessfully to turn the motor.
Wetzel then asked Gordon if he wanted to wait for a tow truck in his police car. Instead of walking toward the car, Gordon began to walk toward the highway. The trooper guided Gordon a few times away from the highway and to the back of the police car.
Wetzel told Gordon he needed to pat him down, and then Gordon sat in the back of the vehicle without handcuffs.
Wetzel asked Gordon a series of questions, including where he was going. His responses were difficult to hear from the video. But Wetzel can be heard confirming that Gordon wanted to go buy a new car, leading the trooper to tell him he cannot given the time of day and the COVID-19 outbreak.
The trooper then asked again where Gordon was going, and can be heard confirming a response that is inaudible in the video: Atlantic City.
Wetzel asked why Gordon was going so fast, but Gordon did not answer.
Wetzel offered to give Gordon a ride and call a tow truck, and again Gordon’s responses were difficult to hear.
“I still don’t know why you were speeding. Why were you going that fast?” Wetzel asked. “You in a hurry to get to Atlantic City?”
“I’m just trying to communicate with you to understand everything,” Wetzel said. “I’m trying to help you out. Your car died.”
After roughly 20 minutes from the start of the traffic stop, Wetzel asked Gordon if he wanted a face mask.
“You want a mask like this to wear? Yeah? Do you have one in your car or no,” the trooper asked.
Gordon then released his seat belt and opened the car door, getting out of the police vehicle. Wetzel was off camera but can be heard using an expletive telling Gordon to return to the car.
Gordon returned to close the door and appeared to walk to the driver’s side of the vehicle in an attempt to get in.
“Get out of the car!” Wetzel yelled.
The men were off screen when the trooper called for another unit, and scuffling sounds could be heard before gunfire.
Another official arrived minutes after the shooting, and Wetzel told him what happened, including firing pepper spray at Gordon. The pepper spray was not visible in the video.
“He was in my car, went to give him a mask. He tried getting out of my car. We got in a fight on the side of the road. He tried running into my car. I got him out, sprayed him. We got in a fight again. He ran away from me, tried to hop in my trooper car, grab my gun. We were fighting with my gun and I shot him. He was already cuffed,” Wetzel said.
It’s unclear when Gordon was handcuffed by the officer.
Grewal said no other information will be released at this time.