Gov. Phil Murphy and State Police Superintendent Col. Pat Callahan declined to say whether a 28-year-old black man killed in a police shooting last week had been stopped by authorities multiple times in the hours ahead of his death, citing a January 2019 law that created a firewall between their offices and investigations into such shootings.
“I signed a law for this very potential that there’s an independent process that’s underway, and that’s the way it should be,” Murphy said. “Until that process surfaces in some form or fashion, I have no visibility into it, nor should I.”
Maurice Gordon, a resident of Poughkeepsie, New York, was killed by state authorities on the Garden State Parkway near Bass River in the early morning of May 23.
A source has told the New Jersey Globe that Gordon had been stopped by or interacted with police three other times in the hours leading up to the shooting.
“The legislation that you signed, governor, intentionally walls me off from any aspects of that investigation,” Callahan said. “It is done through the office of public integrity and accountability under the attorney general, and as of right now, I have not been briefed in any aspects of that investigation — intentionally.”
The attorney general’s office also declined to comment about the other stops.
Gordon’s death comes as protests grip Minneapolis, Minnesota, in the wake of the death of George Floyd, who died after a white city police officer knelt on his neck for seven minutes, including four minutes after Floyd, who is black, became unresponsive, according to bystander videos.
Murphy addressed Floyd’s death and the unrest in Minneapolis unprompted Friday.
“His life mattered as much as mine or my wife’s or my kids or any of yours,” Murphy said of Floyd. “We’ve seen these images before in New York, in Ferguson, in Baltimore and in countless other cities large and small. Too many times have we gotten a national wake-up call and then gone about doing nothing about it. We cannot just expect someone to be fired and that be the end of it. That’s a feel-good action that doesn’t address a systemic problem.”
Body camera footage of Gordon’s death has not been released.
The attorney general has launched its investigation, and some black activists are holding their reactions until the results of that probe are made public.
“The person who is handling the investigation has a stellar record with those of us in the community, so given what is happening around the country, we want to give them an opportunity to do the investigation and to give us time to review it,” said Bishop Jethro James, adding later: “We’ve decided, along with the attorney for the family, is to allow the investigation to go forward. The last thing we want is to discredit the memory of our brother.”
James said Gordon was unarmed, though it’s not clear where he got that information.
The attorney general’s release on the shooting provided Gordon’s name, age and residence as well as the rough location and time of the shooting but gave no further information about the circumstances surrounding his death.
“I was made aware of a situation, and I have reached out to the governor’s office to obtain more facts,” Assemblyman Jamel Holley said. “I believe that the investigation is underway, and I would hope that the investigation would lead to all the facts that would be made to the public.”