A day after police fatally shot a man in Bridgeton, the chairman of a South Jersey-based civil rights group said Saturday that he was extremely disturbed by both the shooting and the fact that the investigation was being handled by the local prosecutor's office.
"I am deeply troubled by the actions of the Bridgeton Police Department," Walter Hudson, chairman and founder of the Salem County-based National Awareness Alliance, said in a statement. He called for the New Jersey state attorney general to take over the investigation because local prosecutors, he said, "cannot be trusted."
The fatal police-involved shooting occurred about 4 p.m. Friday in neighboring Cumberland County. County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae said in a statement Friday night that her office was investigating the fatal shooting by Bridgeton police of a man in the area of South and Fremont Avenues.
Webb-McRae identified the slain man Saturday afternoon as Darryl L. Fuqua, 23, of Ramblewood Drive in Bridgeton. She said in an email that she could not provide any further details on the shooting or comment on Hudson's statements.
She earlier said the preliminary investigation showed that the victim was running from police when at least one officer fired at him. It also said a firearm was found near his body.
Hudson, in his statement, did not identify the victim but said he was contacted Saturday morning by family and friends of the man's mother, Gwen Benson. "My condolence and prayers go out to the family," he said.
A phone number for Benson could not be found in public records. She did not immediately return a message sent to her via Facebook. Hudson was traveling Saturday and said by email that he could not immediately provide further details. He wrote that he was "due to talk to the mother shortly."
In his earlier statement, he called on the state Attorney General's Office "to immediately intervene in this investigation."
Hudson cited the Cumberland County Prosecutor's Office's prior investigation into the Dec. 30, 2014, police-involved shooting death of Jerame Reid, 36, also in Bridgeton. Hudson said prosecutors in the office "have shown in the past with the improprieties around Jerame Reid, they cannot be trusted with this particular investigation."
"We have marched against the city of Bridgeton two years ago for the murder of Jerame Reid, who was shot seven times on camera, with his hands in the air," Hudson said in his statement. "Bridgeton Police Department and their elected officials [do] not value the lives of Black people in the Bridgeton community."
Bridgeton Police Officer Braheme Days, who fired seven shots at Reid — some of which struck Reid's chest, heart, and left arm — and Officer Roger Worley, who fired once but did not hit Reid, were not criminally charged after a grand jury inquiry.
Reid's death stirred outcries after dashboard-camera footage of the encounter was released in January 2015 showing Days yelling to Reid, "You reach for something, you're going to be [expletive] dead," before he opened fire.
Days, according to statements made to the Prosecutor's Office, said he felt in "imminent danger" before he shot Reid, who was later found not to have a gun in his hand. A .40-caliber semiautomatic handgun was found in the glove compartment of the car in which Reid was a passenger. No other weapon was found.
Police said the car had initially been pulled over for running a stop sign. Days and Worley drew their weapons after the car's driver tried to reach for his license in the glove compartment, authorities have said.
The video showed Reid getting out of the car with his hands up, but Days — who was holding both his service weapon and the recovered gun from the glove compartment — told investigators he believed Reid "had a weapon or was planning to take the handgun[s] out of his hands." Authorities have said Reid did not follow orders to stay in the vehicle.
Both Days and Worley have since left the Bridgeton force.
Webb-McRae recused herself from the investigation into Reid's death because she knew Days, who had coached basketball for her son. She had a deputy in her office handle the case.
In October, the New Jersey Senate approved a bill that would require the state Attorney General's Office, instead of county prosecutors, to investigate deaths of people at the hands of police. The legislation next must go through the Assembly.
The New Jersey State Police Crime Scene Unit is assisting the Cumberland County Prosecutor's Office with the investigation into Friday's fatal shooting in Bridgeton. Anyone with information about the shooting has been asked to contact Sgt. Detective Ronald Henry in the Prosecutor's Office at 609-381-2047.
In a separate shooting case in South Jersey, the state Attorney General's Office on Friday said that a New Jersey state trooper dispatched to the wrong Cumberland County home in July was justified in shooting and critically wounding the 76-year-old owner, who had grabbed his own weapons because he feared intruders were outside.
Gerald Sykes was shot twice in the chest and once in the upper groin at his home in Upper Deerfield Township just before midnight on July 29, 2016. Authorities said miscommunications among emergency dispatchers caused two troopers to respond to Sykes' home, where dispatchers believed someone had dialed 911 and hung up.
The Attorney General's Office, which handles trooper-involved shootings, said in a statement Friday: "Mr. Sykes was armed, did not comply with troopers' commands, and approached to within a few feet of the troopers with his shotgun and revolver."
In a phone interview Saturday, Sykes said of the state office's finding that the shooting against him was justified: "Let me put it like this: If Gerald Sykes investigates Gerald Sykes and doesn't find anything wrong, how valid is the report? There was no attempt to contact anybody else. Just one-sided storytelling."
He said neither he nor his wife was interviewed by the AG's Office.
Sykes said he expected his attorney would file a lawsuit on his behalf against the state police. "I'm also certain that's on the books," he said.
As for how he's doing, Sykes said he is well. "I was extremely lucky," he said. "I could have been dead. I could have been paralyzed from the waist down. I could have been paralyzed from the neck down."
He said he spent about eight days in the hospital, suffering from a collapsed lung, torn diaphragm, a ruptured spleen, a perforated bowel, and severe blood loss.
About two months after he was shot, doctors removed the two bullets that went into his chest and lodged in his back, he said. He still has the one bullet in his groin. "Contrary to public television, what's in you don't hurt you," he said.
Besides the bullet wounds, Sykes said he still has some pieces of glass in his face from one of the two troopers firing his gun from the backyard through Sykes' rear sliding-glass door, sending a shower of glass and bullets on Sykes.
Sykes, fearing intruders, said he had gone to his living room with his shotgun.
"I had no idea who they were," he said. "Next thing I knew it was bam, bam, bam."