Early on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, a white New Jersey state trooper fatally shot an unarmed black motorist during a speeding stop on the Garden State Parkway in Bass River, Burlington County.
Maurice Gordon, 28, of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., was shot six times and died two days before the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, an incident that sparked demonstrations against oppressive policing across the United States and the world.
The New Jersey Attorney’s General’s Office on Monday identified the trooper in Gordon’s death as Sgt. Randall Wetzel, and released audio and video recordings of four separate encounters New Jersey state troopers had with Gordon over several hours that morning. The release came after the office completed its initial investigation and Gordon’s family demanded more details in the case.
The recordings began Friday, May 22, when a friend of Gordon’s in Poughkeepsie called 911 to report that Gordon looked “panicked,” had spoken of a “paranormal experience,” and had driven off in a Honda Civic.
Early on May 23, Gordon encountered troopers three times in Ocean County — twice for being stopped in the dark in a lane of the parkway, and a third time for driving at 101 mph.
Then, in Burlington County around 6:30 a.m., police video shows Gordon in the left shoulder of the parkway after Wetzel signaled him to pull over. Wetzel told him he was traveling at 110 mph.
During the stop, Gordon told the trooper his car wouldn’t restart, and Wetzel returned to his vehicle and called for a tow truck.
About 13 minutes later, Gordon opened his driver’s side door, and the trooper yelled: “Stay in your vehicle and don’t get out!” Gordon got out of his Honda, and this time Wetzel invited him to get into the back of the patrol car.
Wetzel could be heard on police radio saying he had patted Gordon down. (A lawyer for Gordon’s family has since told other news outlets Gordon was unarmed.)
After Gordon got in the back of the trooper’s vehicle, Wetzel asked him to put on his seat belt. While they were waiting for the tow truck, Wetzel asked Gordon if his vehicle was out of gas. Gordon appeared to say he didn’t know.
About 20 minutes after sitting down in the trooper’s vehicle, Gordon removed his seat belt and got out, according to the recording. Wetzel then was heard outside the vehicle yelling repeatedly, “Get in the car!" The police vehicle camera, focused on the backseat, only slightly shows what occurred outside, with sounds of a struggle.
Gordon then ran toward the driver’s side of the trooper’s car, and Wetzel called into his radio for help and shouted for Gordon to get out. The Attorney General’s Office said Wetzel used pepper spray on Gordon.
The Attorney General’s Office said that Gordon tried to get into the driver’s seat a second time, and that Wetzel struggled with Gordon on the shoulder of the parkway, then fired six times.
At that point, Wetzel yelled into his police radio: “Shots fired!” and called for an ambulance.
Moments later, when another officer arrived on the scene, Wetzel was heard telling him: “We were fighting with my gun, and I shot him.” Medics who arrived about 7:30 a.m. pronounced Gordon dead.
William O. Wagstaff III, a White Plains, N.Y.-based attorney for Gordon’s family, told the Burlington County Times on Saturday that Gordon was studying chemistry at Dutchess Community College in Fariview, N.Y., and worked as an Uber driver.
“I’m not going to hear his voice anymore,” Gordon’s mother, Racquel Barrett, told NJ.com in an interview Saturday. She and her daughter, who both live in England, flew to the United States on Thursday and have been staying in a hotel in Poughkeepsie.
Wagstaff did not return a call or email from The Inquirer on Monday.
The Attorney General’s Office said the investigation is being conducted by its Office of Public Integrity and Accountability as well as the New Jersey State Police Major Crime Bureau.
Staff writer Erin McCarthy contributed to this article.