No charges for cop in Denville shooting

October 9, 2008 2:53:43 PM PDT
A Denville police officer trapped inside an accelerating Mustang Bullitt decided he had only one option left: Shoot the driver.That was the story Thursday from Morris County Prosecutor Robert A. Bianchi as he described the events that ended with Officer Richard Byrne shooting to death Ruben Walter Martinez last June.

Bianchi said a state grand jury in Morris County has decided not to indict Byrne after deliberating for the past week.

Martinez, 21, was a former Rockaway Township resident living in Texas. He was back in New Jersey for his brother's high school graduation. When police pulled him over for speeding and reckless driving on June 26, he had a blood-alcohol level of .16 percent, twice the state's legal limit, and marijuana in his system, Bianchi said.

The car had already whipped around short blocks and spun out, facing the opposite direction, as Byrne and then another officer, Daniel Fernandez, approached the car.

Bianchi showed video of the stop that shows Martinez's car starting to move. Byrne, who was partially in the passenger side of the car, tried to grab Martinez. Fernandez was meanwhile at the driver side, banging Martinez's head against the door frame to try to get him to release the car keys.

Instead, Martinez got the Mustang in gear and accelerated. The passenger door slammed as the Mustang hit Byrne's patrol car. Byrne jumped into the car to prevent from being crushed as the Mustang accelerated up to 80 mph.

"He's leaving with Richie in the car! You gotta get out here!" Fernandez yelled on the radio to police headquarters.

Byrne, according to Bianchi, ordered Martinez at gunpoint to stop the car, but was instead met with a "dead stare" from Martinez as he kept accelerating.

That's when the 14-year officer fired off five rounds at close range in a mere two seconds, killing Martinez with shots that included one to his heart.

Martinez's estate has filed a notice of intent to sue Denville's police for excessive force, negligence and civil rights violations.

Denville Police Chief Christopher Wagner told The Star-Ledger of Newark that he's relieved Byrne has been cleared.

Bianchi said 36-year-old Byrne has been emotional since the incident and hasn't returned to work because he needs surgery for a shoulder injury suffered in the incident.

To shoot someone, Bianchi said, even when justified, "is a very burden for anyone to bear."