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Fatal police shooting of gunman at 2018 Trenton arts festival was justified, prosecutors say

Terror erupted when a barrage of bullets burst forth at the June 2018 Art All Night festival at the Roebling Wire Works warehouse, sending about 1,000 attendees fleeing for safety.

Police guard the perimeter of the scene where a shooting occurred in June 2018, leaving 22 people shot or injured and a suspected gunman dead at the Art All Night festival in Trenton.
Police guard the perimeter of the scene where a shooting occurred in June 2018, leaving 22 people shot or injured and a suspected gunman dead at the Art All Night festival in Trenton.Read moreWILLIAM THOMAS CAIN / For The Inquirer

A police shooting that killed a suspected gunman and injured another at a popular arts festival in Trenton two years ago was justified, the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office announced Thursday after a lengthy investigation.

Chaos and terror erupted at the Art All Night festival in June 2018, when a barrage of gunfire between dueling gang members burst forth at the warehouse venue, sending a crowd of about 1,000 attendees fleeing for safety.

Seventeen people were wounded by bullets, at least five were injured in the rush to escape, and a suspected gunman was fatally shot by police.

On Thursday, the Prosecutor’s Office announced that two officers and a detective with the Trenton Police Department who had fired shots at Tahaij Wells, 32, of Trenton, killing him, were justified in their use of force. Another detective who had fired shots injuring another gunman, Davone White, then 26, was also justified in his use of force, investigators concluded.

“The detectives and officers believed that discharging their weapons was necessary for the protection of their lives and the lives of the many people present,” the Prosecutor’s Office said in a statement.

White, of Trenton, and another man, Amir Armstrong, then 23, of Ewing, both had guns and were arrested after the shootings. White pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and gun offenses last year and was sentenced to six years in prison. Armstrong pleaded guilty to a gun offense and was sentenced to five years in prison.

The Prosecutor’s Office said its investigation encompassed numerous statements by officers and witnesses, police radio transmissions, photographs, surveillance camera footage, and physical evidence. They said that it was not necessary to present the case to a grand jury because there were no significant facts in dispute regarding the officers' use of force.

The shootings occurred shortly after 2:15 a.m. when officers, who were already working at the event at the Roebling Wire Works warehouse, were told that it was being shut down early until the morning following reports of multiple fights, authorities said. One officer near the front entrance then heard gunshots inside the building and saw a man later identified as Wells shooting a handgun into the crowd about 10 times, investigators said.

Wells then ran toward the officer with a gun in his hand, authorities said, and the officer fired at him multiple times.

A second officer and a detective also fired their guns at Wells before he collapsed, they said. Two firearms were recovered near Wells, who was taken by medics to Capital Health Regional Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead shortly afterward, authorities said.

Another detective fired his gun at White, who had pointed a handgun in the detective’s direction, injuring White, authorities said. A handgun and an extended magazine were retrieved from White’s hand, they said.

Other officers located Armstrong, who was on the floor with a gunshot wound to the right side of his head, authorities said. The investigation revealed that Armstrong was not shot by police. Officers found a revolver tucked in his waistband.

The investigation also revealed that one bystander was hit and injured by a bullet fired by a police officer, the Prosecutor’s Office said.