Originally by Julia Dahl, 48 Hours Crimesider Reporter on CBSNews.com
SPARTA, N.J. – New Jersey’s Attorney General has opened an investigation into an incident involving an off-duty state trooper who shot at three unarmed teenagers who had knocked on his door around 1:30 a.m. Sunday.
According to the attorney general’s office, the three teens – ages 18, 18 and 19 – apparently mistook the trooper’s house for their friend’s, who lived next door. The trooper came downstairs armed with a handgun and after speaking through the door, the teens left the house.
But the incident did not end there. The teens got in their car, drove to the end of the cul-de-sac and, as they were driving back past the trooper’s home, the trooper allegedly tried to stop them, then fired three shots at the car.
No one was hit, but a bullet struck one of the car’s tires, and the teens stopped soon thereafter to call 911. One teen left the scene on foot, but police soon caught up with him and all three were taken into custody where they gave statements.
The New Jersey State Police declined to comment on whether the trooper who shot at the boys was still on active duty. The attorney general’s office says that the trooper identified himself as a police officer to the teenagers, but the young men say he did not. The trooper also apparently alleges that the teens tried to enter his home.
According to New Jersey criminal defense attorney Tim Farrow, there are two main self-defense statutes in the state, neither of which appear to cover the trooper’s actions. Farrow says you are allowed to use force to protect your property if someone is intruding into your home, but since the shooting took place when neither the teens nor the trooper were in the home, that likely wouldn’t apply in this case.
Farrow also said that state law allows for the use of deadly force if a person is in fear of imminent bodily harm or death. However, since the teens were apparently driving at the time of the incident, Farrow said that in order for that defense to hold, the trooper would have to have some indication that the teens were armed or driving toward him when he opened fire.
According to New Jersey Police policy, officers should only fire on a moving vehicle as “a last resort to prevent imminent death or serious injury to the officer or another person.”
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