They crossed paths for only a few seconds, outside a South Jersey Wawa on a rainy spring morning, but that's when the tragedy began with a few short words.
Moments later, Winslow Township Police Officer Sean Richards was wrestling Keith Briscoe down to the wet pavement, and the 36-year-old schizophrenic who visited the store regularly never got up.
Richards, according to his attorney, will plead guilty to simple assault for his involvement in the May 3 altercation that led to Briscoe's death.
"This was a tragedy for him and a tragedy for the Briscoe family," attorney Timothy Quinlan said.
According to the Camden County Prosecutor's Office, Richards had accused Briscoe of loitering and panhandling outside the store that morning and asked him to leave. When Richards later came out of the store and found Briscoe still there smoking a cigarette, he ordered him to leave. Briscoe didn't respond and allegedly resisted when Richards tried to arrest him.
Briscoe was maced, authorities said, and it took four additional officers and three Wawa employees to subdue him. Briscoe suffocated as a result, authorities said.
Quinlan said the Camden County Prosecutor's Office believed that Richards had made "an illegal arrest" and had planned to charge him with official misconduct. Instead, Richards agreed to plead guilty to simple assault, Quinlan said.
Quinlan said he disagreed with the stance the prosecutor's office took but was following his client's wishes. "This was a very, very, very difficult decision for him to make," he said.
The prosecutor's office and the attorney representing Briscoe's family declined to comment. Sunny Briscoe, Keith's sister, said she was willing to accept the guilty plea.
"I appreciate the fact that he didn't walk away scot-free," she said. "Hopefully he won't be a cop again, so he couldn't do this to another family."
Quinlan said Richards' resignation was also an issue with the prosecutor's office, but he said his client needed a shoulder replacement and would never be a law-enforcement officer again. Richards was a 12-year veteran who had undergone training to deal with mentally ill individuals.