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Deptford police officer cleared by grand jury in fatal shooting at strip mall

Grand jury clears Deptford police officer in fatal strip mall shooting.

Deptford Township police cars are not equipped with dashcams. The town challenged a state law requiring dashcams and a panel struck down the mandate in 2016.
Deptford Township police cars are not equipped with dashcams. The town challenged a state law requiring dashcams and a panel struck down the mandate in 2016.Read moreMelanie Burney / File Photograph

A Deptford Township police officer who fatally shot a suspected shoplifter who police said was trying to run him over with an SUV has been cleared of any wrongdoing, authorities said Thursday.

Gloucester County Prosecutor Charles A. Fiore said a grand jury declined to recommend criminal charges against Sgt. Kevin Clements, who shot and killed LaShanda Anderson, 36, of Philadelphia, in June at a strip mall.

That decision came after prosecutors presented the results of an investigation into whether the officer's use of deadly force was justified, a standard procedure under state Attorney General's Office guidelines.

Clements, 41, fired three shots as Anderson and a passenger tried to flee the Deptford Crossing Shopping Center in a rented Nissan Armada on June 9, striking her in the left side of her head, the prosecutor said. Anderson, who also suffered an elbow wound, died at the scene.

Chanel Barnes, the Armada's lone passenger, and Raoul Gadson, another alleged accomplice in a shoplifting ring that targeted Marshalls stores in the Philadelphia region, were not injured. Both face criminal charges.

The shooting made national headlines and sparked protests at the scene. It was the first police-involved fatal shooting ever in Deptford.

Clements, a 19-year veteran of the police department, who has been on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation, could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Deptford Police Chief William Hanstein did not respond to a request seeking comment.

Fiore said said Clements was "fearing for his life" when he fired at Anderson's vehicle after she accelerated toward him and ignored his commands to stop.

Anderson's family has raised questions about whether the shooting was justified.

A niece in June  called the shooting "another senseless killing of an unarmed African American woman."

"This isn't what we were waiting for," the Anderson family said in a statement. "We want justice. We're going to keep fighting. "

"It's extremely disappointing but not surprising. We knew that cop wasn't going to get indicted," said Stanley King, a Woodbury civil rights lawyer who represents the family. "Grand jury proceedings can be extremely one-sided and oftentimes far from fair and objective."

Loretta Winters, president of the Gloucester County Chapter of the NAACP, which also conducted its own probe into the shooting, said she needed more information before commenting on the grand jury findings.

"I still feel that what happened that day — something is wrong. My heart goes out to the family," she said.

>>READ MORE: Family of Philadelphia woman says shooting 'was murder'

In his first extensive public comment on the shooting, Fiore issued a four-page statement releasing new details on the incident and the investigation. The prosecutor said investigators interviewed eyewitnesses and police, and reviewed available footage and ballistic reports. The statement provided a narrative of the shooting.

Two eyewitnesses, Olivia Scattergood, 22, and her boyfriend, Aedan Bell, 19, both of Clementon, have described a different scenario. Both said that they gave statements to the prosecutor's office in July, but neither was called before the grand jury, Bell said.

"I'm at a loss for words," Bell said Thursday. "I can't believe it would get thrown out like that."

The couple confirmed that Anderson and Barnes ignored police commands to stop, but disputed police accounts that Anderson had tried to run officers over. Both said they believe Anderson was trying to flee the area.

There was no body or dash camera footage because Deptford patrol cars and officers were not equipped with them.

The incident unfolded in the Marshalls parking lot across from Deptford Mall on a Saturday afternoon. Clements and Capt. William Bittner were dispatched to the scene in separate police vehicles after a report of a shoplifting in progress, Fiore said.

Anderson, Gadson, and Barnes left Marshalls with merchandise valued at $3,433.41, the prosecutor said. All three had extensive criminal records. Fiore said a store employee told a dispatcher that he recognized them from earlier encounters and security briefings about organized retail theft.

The officers were incorrectly advised by the dispatcher that one of the suspects was a "hit" for a "homicide," Fiore said. No explanation was provided Thursday on why the dispatcher had incorrect information.

After a scuffle with a store employee, Gadson ran off and Anderson got into the SUV, the prosecutor said. Bittner pointed his handgun at Anderson and ordered her out of the vehicle, he said. As Bittner approached the open driver's side door, Anderson sped off, striking him in the shoulder, the prosecutor said. Bittner was not injured, authorities have said.

The SUV traveled about 50 feet and then stopped suddenly, and Barnes entered on the passenger side, Fiore said. Clements was pursuing Barnes from another direction, he said.

Bittner threw his baton at the SUV, shattering its rear window, the prosecutor said. Witnesses said Clements was standing 12 to 25 feet in front of the vehicle with his weapon drawn when he ordered Anderson to stop, he said.

"Instead, the SUV accelerated quickly towards him," the prosecutor's statement said. Clements then "fired three shots in rapid succession," he said.

The SUV traveled through the parking lot, over a curb and down an embankment before striking an access road below, the prosecutor said. An analysis of the control module for the airbag, which deployed, shows the vehicle was traveling at speeds ranging from 19 to 22  mph, he said.

Barnes, 38, of Philadelphia, was arrested at the scene; she was charged with shoplifting and released to await trial. Gadson, 43, also of Philadelphia, was captured several days later on assault and robbery charges. He is in custody in Lehigh County on unrelated charges.

Family members have said that Anderson, a mother of three daughters, was trying to get her life together after several brushes with the law. Anderson had difficulty finding a job because of her criminal record, they said. She was arrested more than 15 times over the last 18 years — for shoplifting but also for more serious charges, including firearms violations and attempted murder. Gadson has been arrested numerous times on charges including theft and drug dealing. Barnes has been arrested seven times for shoplifting.