William J. Owens was shot by police after firing a handgun at one of two women he took hostage at the facility on Jan. 14, 2019
After analyzing all of the facts and circumstances, Director Eicher concluded that the use of force by each of the seven officers was justified under the law. The facts and circumstances reasonably led them to believe their actions were immediately necessary to protect the hostage and others from death or serious bodily harm.
September 2, 2020
TRENTON, NJ (MERCER)–In compliance with the Attorney General’s Independent Prosecutor Directive on Police-Use-of-Force Investigations, this public statement is being issued on the findings of an investigation into the fatal police-involved shooting that occurred on Jan. 14, 2019 at a United Parcel Service (“UPS”) facility in Logan Township, N.J. Among other findings, the investigation determined that the civilian who was killed, William J. Owens, was shot by officers after firing a handgun at one of two female employees he took hostage.
Under the Attorney General’s Independent Prosecutor Directive, the use of deadly force by multiple law enforcement officers was investigated by the Attorney General’s Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA). As a result of the investigation, OPIA Director Thomas J. Eicher determined that presentation of the officer-involved shooting to a grand jury was not required under the directive because the undisputed facts indicate the use of force was justified under the law and the incident occurred before the effective date of the law that requires all police shootings that result in death to be presented to the grand jury. The investigation included numerous witness interviews, reviewing the available video footage of events leading to the shooting, but which did not include the shooting itself, forensic analysis of the scene, and other evidence.
William J. Owens, 39, of Sicklerville, N.J., was shot by seven members of the Gloucester County SWAT Team outside the UPS Mail Innovations facility on Birch Creek Road in Logan Township, Gloucester County. Law enforcement officers, including members of the SWAT Team, had responded to the facility on reports that a gunman had taken two women hostage.
The events leading up to the shooting began at approximately 8:30 a.m., when Owens, a former employee at the UPS facility, went to locate a female employee with whom he previously had a relationship (“Hostage 1”). Owens approached Hostage 1 outside the UPS facility and followed her into the building, armed with a silver 9mm handgun. Once inside, he grabbed Hostage 1, fired the gun into the air, and announced that he was taking her hostage. Owens then pistol-whipped a male security guard while continuing to hold onto Hostage 1. He said he was going to kill Hostage 1, and he threatened to “kill everyone in this building.”
Owens continued to hold Hostage 1 at gunpoint. A short time later, Owens took a second female employee (“Hostage 2”) hostage at gunpoint. Owens pointed his gun at various other people, saying he would kill everybody there and didn’t care. Owens fired at least two additional shots while inside the building, causing employees to flee in terror.
Police were called, arrived, and created a secure perimeter. While police tried to negotiate with him by phone, Owens walked the two hostages around inside the building, subjecting them to continuous abuse and torment. Owens brutally kicked and pistol-whipped Hostage 1 numerous times and terrorized both hostages throughout the lengthy standoff. He pointed his gun at the heads of both hostages repeatedly. He also struck Hostage 2. He continued to make threats, vowing to kill the hostages, police officers, and others.
Police entered the vast facility in an attempt to end the standoff, but were unsuccessful. When Owens realized police were entering the building, he again threatened the lives of the two hostages as well as police officers. He stated that the police would have to kill him. Police negotiated with Owens for several hours in an unsuccessful attempt to get him to release the hostages, put down his gun, and surrender peacefully. The standoff lasted from approximately 8:30 a.m. until approximately 11:55 a.m., when the hostages were able to escape from Owens.
Hostage 1 – who was bleeding from the savage beatings she endured – ran out of the UPS facility through an employee entrance that opened onto a parking area. She was closely followed by Owens, who had his gun pointed in her direction. Owens fired his weapon at her as she ran away toward police officers. The seven SWAT team officers saw Owens chasing the woman, gun extended. After Owens fired, all seven officers discharged their weapons, firing numerous rounds at Owens and fatally wounding him. Emergency medical personnel were already on the scene, but no medical treatment was provided because it was clear that Owens was deceased and life-saving measures would not be effective. No other person was shot during the incident.
Of the seven shooting officers, five were armed with .223 rifles and two, with 9mm sub-machine guns. Owens’ autopsy revealed 29 wounds. The gun used by Owens was found next to his body and was matched to the following casings and projectiles: one spent shell casing found in the car he drove; three spent shell casings found inside the UPS facility; one spent shell casing found inside the gun that lay next to him; and one projectile found inside the UPS facility. No camera captured the shooting by police. However, limited video footage of Owens moving about the interior of the UPS facility was captured by security cameras.
This matter was reviewed by Director Eicher in accordance with the AG’s Independent Prosecutor Directive on Police Use-of-Force Investigations. After analyzing all of the facts and circumstances, Director Eicher concluded that the use of force by each of the seven officers was justified under the law. The facts and circumstances reasonably led them to believe their actions were immediately necessary to protect the hostage and others from death or serious bodily harm. An officer may use deadly force in New Jersey when the officer reasonably believes it is immediately necessary to protect the officer or another person from imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm.
The names of the seven law enforcement officers who fired at Owens are not being released because threats were made against the officers involved under circumstances that indicate releasing their identities could jeopardize their safety.
A law enacted in January 2019 requires that the Attorney General’s Office conduct investigations of a person’s death that occurs during an encounter with a law enforcement officer acting in the officer’s official capacity or while the decedent is in custody. This deadly force investigation preceded enactment of that law. It was therefore conducted in accordance with the Independent Prosecutor Directive, issued in 2006 and strengthened in 2015, which establishes strict procedures for conducting such investigations. The directive provides that unless the undisputed facts indicate the use of force was justified under the law, the circumstances of the incident must be presented to a grand jury, composed of 23 civilians, for its independent review.
The Independent Prosecutor Directive is posted on the Attorney General’s website at the following link: http://www.nj.gov/oag/dcj/agguide/directives/2006-5_SRT_OIS.pdf
Further information about how officer-involved shootings are investigated in New Jersey under the directive is found at this link: