The Gloucester County NAACP on Wednesday called on the New Jersey attorney general to take over the investigation into the fatal police shooting of a shoplifting suspect in a Deptford strip mall parking lot over the weekend.
In a statement, the civil rights group said Deptford police and the county Prosecutor's Office should cede their inquiry into the death of LaShanda Anderson, saying an investigation by state prosecutors would "dispel any suspicions" of a cover-up. It said an independent probe was needed to engender confidence in "communities that historically have, according to many reliable studies, been treated differently and unfairly by law enforcement personnel."
"All residents and visitors to Gloucester County must feel they have the right to live and visit here without fear of threat, violence or harm from anyone, including our police departments," said Loretta Winters, president of the Gloucester County NAACP.
Peter Aseltine, a spokesman for Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal, declined to comment Wednesday. Bernie Weisenfeld, a spokesman for the Prosecutor's Office did not respond to a message seeking comment.
On Tuesday, the NAACP said it would conduct its own probe into the death of Anderson, 36, of Philadelphia, who was shot twice after she allegedly tried to run over two police officers in a parking lot of Deptford Crossing during an attempt to avoid an arrest on a charge of shoplifting.
"It was just a normal, normal shoplifting. They happen every day. How did this one end up in a killing?" Winters asked Wednesday.
The Prosecutor's Office is investigating the incident and whether the use of force was justified. The sergeant who shot Anderson has been placed on paid leave pending completion of an investigation into the shooting.
Authorities say Anderson ignored commands to stop as she drove toward the officers in a rented SUV and one of them fired in self-defense. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
An alleged accomplice in the shoplifting scheme, Chanel Barnes, 27, of Philadelphia, was arrested and remains in the Salem County Jail, and faces a detention hearing Thursday. A second accomplice, Raoul Gadson, 43, also of Philadelphia, was captured Wednesday by the Prosecutor's Office's fugitive unit in Philadelphia, Weisenfeld said.
Weisenfeld said Gadson will be held in Philadelphia pending extradition proceedings to face a first appearance hearing in Superior Court in Woodbury on assault and robbery charges.
All three had extensive criminal records and a pattern of shoplifting arrests. Authorities said they tried to steal $3,443 in merchandise stuffed into a suitcase from a Marshalls store in the strip mall.
The two officers who responded to the shoplifting report were told by a county dispatcher that one of the suspects was wanted for a previous homicide, Weisenfeld said. That turned out to be incorrect, he said. It was not clear how the wrong information was given or when the officers were alerted about the mistake, he said.
Upon arrival, the officers saw Gadson struggling with a store loss prevention specialist who had recognized one of the suspects from a state police bulletin about a retail theft ring targeting the chain. The employee confronted the trio as they tried to leave the store. Gadson is charged with assaulting the employee, according to a criminal warrant.
As Gadson ran off, the two women jumped into a rented Nissan Armada, authorities said. Anderson, who was driving, accelerated toward the officers and struck one, a patrol captain with 27 years on the force, with her open driver's-side door, prosecutors said. Witnesses said she then "accelerated straight at the [other] officer."
The second officer, a sergeant and 17-year veteran, fired three shots at Anderson, causing the car to veer and narrowly miss him, prosecutors said.
It is believed to be the first fatal police-involved shooting in Deptford. The department has 82 uniformed officers.
Prosecutor Charles Fiore has promised that his office will conduct a "comprehensive and objective investigation" into the shooting.
Under a state attorney general's directive, any deadly use of force by a municipal police officer is investigated by the county prosecutor and not the local police department, and then reviewed by the state. Unless the facts indicate the use of force was justified, the circumstances of the incident must be presented to a grand jury to determine whether charges are warranted, according to the directive.
There is no video footage from the strip mall shooting because Deptford patrol cars are not equipped with dashboard cameras and the township's officers are not fitted with body cameras. As a consequence, some legal experts believe that may it difficult for investigators to determine whether the shooting falls within guidelines for using lethal force.
Years ago, the Deptford Police Department had dashboard cameras and in 2006 a video recording played a crucial role in a case in which three officers were accused of using excessive force against a motorist. One officer was acquitted at trial and prosecutors later dropped charges against the two others.
It was unclear when the department stopped using dashboard cameras. In 2014, Deptford successfully challenged a state law that required all local police departments to have dashboard cameras and two years later, a state board struck down the mandate.
Since the weekend shooting, Police Chief William Hanstein has not responded to several messages seeking comment about the incident.