PATERSON, NJ (PIX11) — Prosecutors on Monday charged a Paterson police officer accused of shooting a man in the back, leaving the victim unable to walk, in a caught-on-camera incident.
Jerry Moravek, 40, was charged with second-degree aggravated assault causing serious bodily injury and second-degree official misconduct in connection with the shooting on June 11, 2022. Moravek could face up to 10 years in New Jersey State Prison on each count if convicted.
“Every case deserves a thorough investigation and here we have determined that the use of deadly force was not justified,” Attorney General Matthew Platkin said. “A young man’s life will never be the same because of the unnecessary action by this officer, which contradicted his police training and his oath to protect and preserve life.”
Moravek was on a quality-of-life patrol when he was dispatched to the location of an arrest on Garrison Street, officials with the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office said in July 2022. Multiple gunshots were heard coming from nearby Marion Street. Moravek called “shots fired” into his police-issued radio and ran toward Marion Street.
On Moravek’s way there, he spotted Khalif Cooper, who was running in the opposite direction, Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office officials said. Moravek turned, chased Cooper and shouted commands to “drop the gun.” Once they reached John Street, Moravek opened fire, hitting Cooper in the lower back, authorities said.
“I don’t got no gun,” Cooper repeatedly said after being shot.
Moravek asked Cooper why he ran.
“I was scared,” he can be heard saying on the body-camera video. “I don’t got no gun though.”
Per the Attorney General’s Office, Moravek never ordered Cooper to stop running or to get on the ground. He also never warned Cooper that he was going to use deadly force.
“The body-worn camera footage does not depict the victim brandishing any firearm or pointing a firearm at the defendant, other officers or any member of the public,” according to the Attorney General’s Office. “No gun was found in the victim’s possession nor within his reach.”
Moravek can be heard on body-camera video stating he saw Cooper with a gun.
“He was running from something, I don’t know,” another officer said about Cooper. “He must have dropped it somewhere.”
Moravek then spotted a gun and flagged other officers.
“Yes, that’s the one that I saw him with,” Moravek said.
Officers recovered a 9 mm handgun on the ground between two parked cars on Garrison Street, the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office officials said. The gun was found along the path Cooper had run, but testing revealed no DNA or fingerprint evidence linking it to Cooper, according to the Attorney General’s Office.
Moravek’s lawyer, Patrick Caserta, questioned why the charges were filed. He said he’d agreed to meet with the AG’s Office in February and then “for reasons which I expect will be quite obvious to many, the OAG, without reaching out to us, made a decision to file criminal charges and hold their press conference.”
“I see no reason, or at least no good reason, why a decision to file charges was suddenly made and why the OAG did not want to have my client’s full cooperation,” Caserta said.
Moravek believed his life and the lives of others were at risk during the chase, Caserta said.
“He believed at that split-second that the person he was chasing was turning to fire that handgun at him and he realized that if he missed, the bullets could strike anyone nearby,” Caserta said. “He made that split-second decision and fired his weapon.”
Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh noted that Moravek followed guidelines.
“The police officer was responding to a call for service when shots were fired in his vicinity. The officer ran towards the shots fired and pursued an individual whom he believed to have a gun. While it is unfortunate that an individual was shot, a preliminary review reveals that the officer was following guidelines,” Sayegh said. “Several guns and shell casings were recovered from the scene. We will respect the judicial system and let the legal process play out. Until that time, the City will have no further comment.”
PIX11 News has reached out to the Paterson Police Department for comment.