The family of a Philadelphia woman fatally shot by police over the weekend at a South Jersey strip mall while she allegedly tried to run over officers there to arrest her in a shoplifting case called her death "a senseless killing" on Monday and demanded an investigation.
LaShanda Anderson, 36, was shot twice by a Deptford Township police officer Saturday afternoon after she ignored a command to stop and tried to run over two officers, prosecutors said. One of the officers, authorities said, fired in self-defense.
As the investigation continued and new details emerged, Anderson's family raised questions about whether the shooting was justified. They believe they may never know what happened because there is no body or dash camera footage.
"The police don't have body camera footage, and they don't have any cameras for that area, so you do the math," said Traisha Way, Anderson's 31-year-old niece.
"This was murder," Way said. "I don't care how long it takes us to get to the bottom of it."
Stanley King, a Woodbury civil rights lawyer who has filed several lawsuits against police in South Jersey, questioned whether the officer should have fired shots into a moving vehicle. King is not involved in the case.
" I just don't know whether that level of force is justified," King said. "Granted, she seemed like she had a troubled background but to shoot three times into a moving vehicle is problematic. It would appear that would be excessive."
Although a growing number of New Jersey police departments have purchased body cameras for patrol officers, they are not required to do so under state law. In 2015, the state equipped state police officers with body cameras. The cameras are costly and some local departments have said they cannot afford them.
The shooting will be investigated by the Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office, said spokesman Bernie Weisenfeld. It is believed to be the first fatal police-involved shooting in Deptford, he said. Weisenfeld said no weapons were found in the vehicle.
The manhunt, meanwhile, continued for Raoul Gadson, wanted in connection with the shoplifting at the strip mall on Clements Bridge Road across from Deptford Mall. Gadson, 43, of Philadelphia, fled, while Anderson and Chanel Barnes jumped into a rented Nissan Armada and tried to get away when police arrived, authorities said.
Barnes, 27, of Philadelphia, who was being held in the Salem County Jail, was scheduled to have an initial court appearance Monday on a shoplifting charge and was expected to be released. According to court records, Barnes has a pending case in Philadelphia stemming from a 2017 charge for retail theft and receiving stolen property.
According to a warrant, obtained under the state's Open Public Records Act, Barnes and her accomplices tried to steal merchandise valued at $3,433.41 from a Marshalls store. The unspecified merchandise was stuffed inside a suitcase, the document said.
In Anderson's North Philadelphia neighborhood on Monday, family and friends gathered on the step of her home and remembered Anderson as a mother of three who enjoyed karaoke, cooking, and fashion. They said Anderson had struggled recently to turn her life around after a string of brushes with the law. Anderson had difficulty finding a job because of her criminal record, they said.
Anderson's criminal record dates back to 2000 with cases in Philadelphia, Bucks, and Montgomery Counties. She has been in and out of prison during that time after pleading guilty in cases ranging from retail theft and robbery to unlawful possession of a firearm and conspiracy to commit aggravated assault. In the conspiracy case, she was charged in a related gun case with criminal attempted murder, but that charge was dropped and she pleaded guilty to possessing an instrument of crime and received a probation sentence. (She was sentenced to up to 23 months but was immediately paroled and given credit for time served.) She was released from jail in 2017.
"I don't care if she had a history as long as a telephone book. It could've ended differently," said Way. "Her past is her past. I feel as though this was another senseless killing of an unarmed African American woman."
Anderson's body has not been released by authorities in Gloucester County and funeral arrangements are pending, the family said. Anderson was the mother of three daughters, ages 20, 16, and 15. Her relatives said they did not know how Anderson knew Barnes and Gadson.
The two police officers had responded to a report that a man and two women were shoplifting. A security guard in the store recognized one of the suspects from a state police bulletin about a retail theft ring targeting the Marshalls chain.
Weisenfeld said the officers were advised by a county dispatcher that one of the suspects was wanted in connection with an earlier homicide. It was unclear what homicide the dispatcher referred to, he said.
Gloucester County authorities are seeking Raoul Gadson, 43, of Philadelphia, in connection with an alleged shoplifting incident at a Deptford strip mall. Police fatally shot an alleged accomplice who tried to run over an officer. Upon arrival, the two Deptford officers saw Gadson struggling with store security guards who confronted the trio as they tried to leave the store. It was unclear how Gadson escaped from the mall, which abuts a wooded, swampy area. The strip mall is close to Routes 42 and 55.
Anderson, who was driving the Nissan, accelerated toward the officers and struck one, a patrol captain with 27 years on the force, with her open driver-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. Anderson was struck twice and pronounced dead at the scene, Weisenfeld said.
The officers involved were not identified. The captain struck by the car door was uninjured. The sergeant will be placed on leave pending the completion of an investigation into the shooting.
The prosecutor will determine whether the shooting should be presented to a grand jury, under the state Attorney General Office's guidelines for reviewing police use of force incidents. Such cases may be presented to a grand jury when "in the interests of justice" to "enhance public confidence in thoroughness, impartiality and integrity of [the] investigation," the guidelines said.
Last month, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner announced that his office would not charge a police officer who fatally shot an unarmed man who had been driving toward him.
Gadson has been arrested numerous times since turning 18 on charges including theft and drug dealing, records show. He was repeatedly jailed as a result. His most recent case was last fall, when he was convicted of shoplifting and drug offenses in Bethlehem, Pa., and ordered to serve seven weeks to 23 months in jail.
Barnes has been arrested seven times for shoplifting in incidents that typically resulted in a probationary sentence. Her records include two convictions for fleeing police. Early last year, she was charged with shoplifting and giving false identification to police. She was jailed for at least six months.
Anderson was identified in a public alert issued in October by Delaware State Police as part of a ring that had been stealing items from Marshalls stores in Wilmington and Newark.
She was trying to make a fresh start, said her sister Norma Johnson.
"She turned everything around," Johnson said. "She was taking care of her kids and me. She changed herself."
Andrew Mastrangelo, a spokesman for TJX Cos. in Framingham, Mass., which operates Marshalls, declined to comment Monday. Deptford Police Chief William Hanstein did not respond to a message seeking comment.
At the Marshalls in Deptford on Monday, two extra unarmed security guards stood at the store entrance. Some shoppers said they were alarmed by the shootout over the weekend.
"We don't like to hear these types of things," said Ahmet Karakoc, 42, of Deptford. "It's a nice, quiet town."
The shopping strip is across the street from Deptford Mall, where two bystanders were killed in 1996 when two gunmen held up an armored car making a pickup at a bank. One gunman was killed and his accomplice was captured a month later.