911 calls released from when state trooper fired at teenage driver

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Wednesday, August 5, 2015
new jersey news eyewitness news

SPARTA, N.J. -- A teenage driver reported swerving to avoid an off-duty state trooper standing in the street before the man opened fire, while the trooper's wife said the driver tried to hit her husband, according to 911 calls made after the encounter last month.

No one was injured in the shooting in Sparta, 50 miles northwest of New York City, and no charges have been filed. The trooper, who fired three shots from his personal weapon, remains on active duty. The teen driver and two others were detained for about nine hours. The shooting is being investigated by the state attorney general's office.

The driver, Jonathan Baker, said in a 911 recording that he and two friends mistakenly knocked on the wrong door while looking for a friend's house. He said the three ran when the trooper came out of his home with a weapon.

"He came out with, like, something, like a laser, like a gun, or something," Baker said in the recording, obtained by the New Jersey Herald through an open records request. "And, we, 'cause I was really scared. We were all scared. He was shouting like at us from the front door. So, we ran back to my car. We were just trying to drive away, because it was obvious it was the wrong house.

"And, we drove down the street, and it was a cul de sac. We had to turn around. And he was in the middle of the street, and, I swerved, because I didn't want to hit him. And, he shot my car and, it's like, the front right tire is blown out. It's flat."

The trooper's wife said in a separate 911 call that she woke her husband up after hearing banging on the front and back doors of their home.

"I woke him up. He went and got his gun. He went outside. He fired three shots. The car almost hit him. Now he's in his car pursuing them," the woman said.

Officials didn't release the names of those involved. Investigators said the officer, who joined the forced in 2009, identified himself as a police officer when he began chasing after the two 18-year-olds and one 19-year-old.

Jesse Barkhorn, one of the passengers in the car, told The Associated Press that the windows of the car were closed and he didn't hear the officer identify himself. On the recording, Baker said "he's a state trooper or something.

Peter Aseltine, a spokesman for the attorney general, said that there is no timeline for the investigation to be completed, saying authorities wanted to ensure the inquiry was thorough and fair.

He said the criminal investigation had to be finished before officials would look into whether the officer violated any state police policies or procedures.

The attorney general's use-of-force policy says that "firearms are not generally effective in bringing moving vehicles to a rapid halt." It also says officers should not fire at a car unless they reasonably believe that "there exists an imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm to the officer or another person" and that there's no other way to eliminate the danger.