NEWARK, NJ (Thursday, June 13, 2019) – At first, the January 2019 traffic stop in downtown Newark, New Jersey seemed routine and unremarkable. A Newark Police Department officer stopped a sedan she had observed driving well in excess of the posted speed limit while she was on patrol. But as any police officer will tell you, there is nothing “routine” about a traffic stop.
Within seconds of the stop, the officer observed in plain view a handgun under the driver’s leg. After repeatedly ignoring the officer’s clear direction to roll down the window, turn off the car, and put his hands on the steering wheel, the driver accelerated and sped off. The officer radioed fellow officers there was a gun in the car. She initiated a pursuit. Other Newark Police officers then joined the pursuit through several downtown streets, including Officer Jovanny Crespo, a Newark native who has been on the department for two years. About three minutes later, after over a one mile chase, Crespo approached the passenger side window. He said he saw a handgun pointed at him. Crespo deployed his service weapon several times into the car and the car finally stopped.
The driver, 46-year-old Gregory Griffin, was pronounced dead at the scene from a gunshot wound. The front seat passenger, 26-year-old Andrew Dixon, was wounded but survived; he was later charged with possession of an illegal firearm. Crespo, 26, was subsequently charged in May 2019 with aggravated manslaughter, aggravated assault, and official misconduct. A conviction could result in life imprisonment.
The Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund (LELDF) announced it has accepted this case to financially support Crespo and his family, which includes his wife and four small children. LELDF President Jason C. Johnson said his organization’s review of the facts of the case, combined with extensive review of police body camera footage from the traffic stop, convinced the organization to support Crespo.
Johnson also pointed out that Crespo has not been the subject of disciplinary action, nor has he been involved in any previous officer-involved shooting cases.
“It is apparent from the video that the occupants of the vehicle were very concerned about being stopped by police,” Johnson said. “They knew they were illegally in possession of a firearm and that it was loaded with illegal, hollow-point ammunition. The driver can be seen moving his right hand toward the area of the center console after the first officer ordered him to place his hands on the steering wheel, after she saw the gun under his leg near the center console.
“The driver also glances down toward his seat as if to verify that the gun is still there,” he added. “We believe he was contemplating pulling the gun and shooting the officer at that time. Instead, he decided to flee from the stop.”
Johnson said Crespo fired his weapon at the suspect’s vehicle after Crespo saw one of the occupants “point the gun right at him.” That specific statement was recorded by Crespo’s body worn camera.
“This is a young police officer working hard to bring armed career criminals to justice,” Johnson said. “We look for cases where the officer’s use of force was consistent with established law governing use of force by police. It’s the role of the LELDF to try to reverse the trend of analyzing police officers’ use of force decisions through a political, rather than legal, lens.”
The mission of the LELDF is both benevolent and educational. It supports and defends the law enforcement profession and those law enforcement officers who have devoted their lives to upholding the Constitution and serving the United States and its citizens while enforcing its laws. It also seeks to educate the public about the many risks and threats to law enforcement personnel in order to build a more informed, respectful, and appreciative society. The 501(C)(3) organization was founded in 1995 in Alexandria, Virginia.