Paterson activists cheer indictment of city cop in 2022 shooting of fleeing gun suspect

PATERSON — The attorney general’s indictment of Police Officer Jerry Moravek for a foot-chase shooting drew praise from community activists, who described Thursday’s announcement as a sign that city cops are being held more accountable.

Moravek, 40, a city police officer since 2014, was indicted on aggravated assault and official misconduct charges in a June 2022 incident in which the cop shot Khalif Cooper in the back while running after him near a shooting scene in Paterson’s 1st Ward.

Cooper, who filed a $50 million lawsuit against the city, has bullet fragments in his spine, leaving him unable to walk, authorities said.

Matthew Platkin, the attorney general of New Jersey.
Matthew Platkin, the attorney general of New Jersey.

“Deadly force against a fleeing suspect must be used only when absolutely necessary to stop an imminent danger,” said Attorney General Matthew Platkin. “As alleged, the grand jury determined that the defendant’s decision to use deadly force against the victim (Cooper) running away from him in this incident was not justified.”

What does the indictment say?

Platkin’s press release said Moravek was on duty when he engaged in a foot chase of Cooper and ordered him to drop a gun.

“It is alleged that the defendant (Moravek) never ordered the victim to stop running or to get on the ground, and he never warned the victim that he was going to use deadly force” before he fired his gun, Platkin’s announcement said.

“Body-worn camera footage does not depict the victim possessing or brandishing any firearm or pointing a firearm at the defendant, other officers, or any member of the public,” continued the announcement. “No gun was found in the victim’s possession or within his reach at the time he was shot. A discarded firearm was recovered around the corner from where the victim was shot, along the path that he had run.”

Activist and former Paterson school board member Corey Teague asserted that Cooper posed no threat to anyone when he was shot by Moravek.

“I’m glad that they took a good hard look at what happened,” Teague said, predicting that the indictment will improve city residents’ perception of law enforcement. “This will help. It shows that they’re not going to continue to shield the police. When something wrong happened, it will be addressed.”

The presidents of Paterson’s police unions expressed their support for Moravek, who has been on paid leave for the past nine months after the initial criminal charges were filed against him.

“The PBA is behind Jerry and we will provide him with whatever resources he needs for his defense,” said Angel Jimenez, head of the union that represents Paterson’s rank-and-file cops. “We think he acted appropriately.”

Mason Maher, president of the Superior Officers Association, called Moravek “a great cop.”

“He’s an outstanding police officer who has taken a multitude of guns and suspects off the streets,” Maher said.

“He was running into harm’s way to apprehend the suspect,” Maher said of the Cooper shooting. “It was an extremely volatile situation with multiple suspects involved and shots fired.”

Moravek’s lawyer, Pat Caserta, said he is looking forward to taking the case to trial.

“I am not going to ‘try’ this case in the press,” Caserta said. “However, as the OAG has released some material and made some statements, it is only fair and reasonable to point to the undisputed facts.” He was referring to the Office of the Attorney General.

Caserta said Moravek’s body-camera video clearly shows the officer running toward gunfire when he encountered Cooper. “As we know at this time, Mr. Cooper has two prior convictions involving firearms,” Moravek’s lawyer said. “He has also posted his photo on social media brazenly displaying a gun.”

“In the early morning hours on that dark street, Officer Moravek gave chase, and at a point in time, when he felt Mr. Cooper was going to use that gun, Officer Moravek fired his weapon,” Caserta said.

“The weapon was found immediately, directly in the path Mr. Cooper had taken, where he ran behind parked cars,” the lawyer added. “Some may want to pretend that Mr. Cooper never had a gun that day, but we are confident that reason and logic will prevail.”

Cooper has twice been convicted of gun possession crimes for incidents that happened in 2016 and 2017, court records show.

Indictment official: Paterson cop indicted in 2022 shooting of a fleeing gun suspect

How did Paterson officials react to the indictment?

Mayor Andre Sayegh did not immediately respond to a message seeking his comment for this story. Sayegh rushed to Moravek’s defense in February after the initial charges were filed against the officer. The mayor at that time said Moravek believed that the man he was chasing had a gun.

"While it is unfortunate that an individual was shot, a preliminary review reveals that the officer was following guidelines," Sayegh said back then.

Cooper has family ties to Paterson Board of Education member Valerie Freeman.

“I’m elated by the fact that they indicted him,” Freeman said. “I believe they got it right. This gives the community hope that sometimes they do see things the way we see them.”

Freeman said Cooper is the father of her 7-year-old granddaughter.

“She gets sad when she hears about what happened to him,” Freeman said of the girl. “He deserves justice. He didn’t deserve what happened to him.”

Complete coverage: Najee Seabrooks case: From the Paterson police shooting, to Platkin takeover

Charges unfolded weeks before Platkin took control of Paterson police

The Moravek case unfolded during a troubled time for the Paterson Police Department, months after a federal trial exposed the arrogant and lawless behavior of the self-proclaimed “robbery squad” of rogue cops who admitted beating and robbing people they illegally stopped.

A month after the initial charges against Moravek were filed, Paterson police fatally shot knife-wielding activist Najee Seabrooks after an almost-five-hour standoff, an incident that ignited a series of angry protests in the city and preceded the attorney general's decision on March 27 to take control of the city department.

“There’s definitely been more scrutiny and attention to what’s happening in the Paterson Police Department, especially after the state takeover,” activist Ernest Rucker said. “Everybody is watching what’s happening in Paterson now.”

Teddie Martinez, a longtime activist, said there has been “a different feeling in the community about the police” since the attorney general's intervention.

“People see that they are looking to hold individuals accountable,” Martinez said. “They’re bridging the gap between law enforcement and the community. But we still have a long way to go.”

Joe Malinconico is editor of Paterson Press. Email: editor@patersonpress.com

This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Paterson NJ: Jerry Moravek indictment cheered by activists