Day: January 4, 2023

Grand Jury Indicts Trenton Police Officer for Official Misconduct in Connection with Arrest of Trenton Man Who Later Died After Being Pepper Sprayed

Trenton Homicides in 2020 now 41 since medical examiner ruled death a homicide

January 4, 2023

TRENTON, NJ (MERCER)–A state grand jury has voted to file a criminal charge against a Trenton police officer in connection with the officer’s use of pepper spray during an encounter with Joseph Ahr Sr., who died weeks after being pepper sprayed during his arrest in 2020.

The Office of the Attorney General today announced Officer Nicholas Piotrowski was indicted on one count of official misconduct.

New Jersey residents called to serve on the grand jury decided that the charge should be filed relating to the force that Officer Piotrowski used during the arrest of Joseph Ahr Sr., 64, of Trenton. The grand jury did not return charges directly related to the death of Mr. Ahr, who was hospitalized and later died following that arrest on July 6, 2020.

“Police officers are required to be measured in their use of force in every encounter, even under challenging conditions,” said Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin. “In New Jersey, we take this obligation seriously and my office thoroughly and independently investigates and presents to a grand jury every death that occurs during an encounter with law enforcement. This officer resorted to using pepper spray during a confrontation with a civilian in a manner that was unnecessary and contrary to his training, mishandling a situation that could have concluded so much differently.”

“Under the law and the Attorney General’s Use of Force Policy, officers are permitted to use only force which is reasonable and necessary,” said Thomas J. Eicher, Executive Director of OPIA. “The grand jury found that Officer Piotrowski should be indicted for official misconduct because his force did not meet that basic standard.”

The fatal police encounter was investigated by the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA) and presented to the grand jury in accordance with Directive 2019-4, the “Independent Prosecutor Directive,” issued in 2019. In July 2021, OPIA issued standard operating procedures (“SOPs”) to ensure these grand jury presentations are conducted in a neutral, objective manner, and with appropriate transparency regarding the process, consistent with the Independent Prosecutor Directive.

The investigation of this officer-involved fatality included interviews of witnesses, collection of forensic evidence, review of video footage, and autopsy results from the medical examiner. After hearing testimony and evidence from the investigation, the grand jury concluded its deliberations on Tuesday, January 3, 2023, and voted “true bill,” meaning the grand jury determined this criminal charge against the officer was warranted.

According to the investigation, officers of the Trenton Police Department responded to Mr. Ahr’s home in the 700 block of Monmouth Street around 5:30 p.m. on July 6, 2020, after police received a call from Mr. Ahr’s son. Trenton officers arrived and initially spoke to the son, who answered the front door. Joseph Ahr Sr. then came to the door to speak to the officers. After the son went into the house, Mr. Ahr remained on the porch and engaged in a verbal dispute with the officers.

Officers tried to detain Mr. Ahr and he pulled away. Officers then took Mr. Ahr to the ground, restrained him, and handcuffed him. During the encounter, Officer Piotrowski struck Mr. Ahr, Sr. and deployed pepper spray at close range directly in his face on multiple occasions. While the officers were handcuffing Mr. Ahr, he stated several times that he could not breathe. After he was sitting up, Mr. Ahr complained about other medical issues, and officers summoned emergency medical personnel. EMS personnel responded to the scene, examined Mr. Ahr, treated him with oxygen, and transported him to Capital Health Regional Medical Center in Trenton. Mr. Ahr was admitted to the hospital, where he died 18 days later on July 24, 2020.

The medical examiner concluded that the manner of death was homicide, with the cause of death listed as “acute respiratory failure following the use of pepper spray during arrest of an individual with chronic pulmonary disease and COVID-19.” A finding of “homicide” by the medical examiner indicates that another person or persons contributed to the death. It does not establish criminal liability or determine whether the actions of the other persons were legally justified.

If convicted, Officer Piotrowski could face up to 10 years in prison.

A 2019 law, P.L. 2019, c. 1, requires the Attorney General’s Office to conduct investigations of a person’s death during an encounter with a law enforcement officer acting in the officer’s official capacity or while the decedent is in custody. It requires that all such investigations be presented to a grand jury to determine if the evidence supports the return of an indictment against the officer or officers involved.

A conflicts check was conducted pursuant to the Independent Prosecutor Directive and no actual or potential conflict of interest was found involving any individual assigned to the investigation. Prior to presentation to the grand jury, the investigation was reviewed by OPIA Executive Director Thomas Eicher in accordance with the policies and procedures established for these presentations in the SOPs.

Joseph Ahr Sr., 64, of Trenton says “I can’t breathe” during his arrest after being pepper sprayed.

Screen captures from body cameras provided by NJ Attorney General’s Office

Obituary here:

Trenton Homicides in 2020 now 41 since medical examiner ruled death a homicide

The medical examiner concluded that the manner of death was homicide, with the cause of death listed as “acute respiratory failure following the use of pepper spray during arrest of an individual with chronic pulmonary disease and COVID-19.”

With numbers adjusted since medical examiner ruled a homicide 2020 was the Trenton’s worse year on record now with 41

In 2022 there were 22 homicides with 2 still under investigation to determine the cause.

The names of the Trenton homicides of 2020:

  1. January 30, 2020, Starquasia Harris, 24, shooting
  2. February 16, 2020, Maurice London, 39, shooting
  3. March 23, 2020, Danavan Phillips, 37, shooting
  4. March 25, 2020, Yuell Moore, 29, shooting
  5. April 5, 2020 Quamiera Massey, 24, shooting
  6. April 5, 2020 Dabree Brannon, 30, shooting
  7. April 5, 2020 Frederick Mason, 20, shooting
  8. May 14, 2020, pronounced dead May 21, 2020 Terrence Horton, 53, shooting
  9. May 17, 2020, Robert Smith, 38, shooting
  10. May 18, 2020 Antwuan Bowens, 44, shooting
  11. May 18, 2020 Tayvion Jones, 18, shooting
  12. May 21, 2020 Raheen McKinnon 19, shooting
  13. May 23, 2020, Watson Cogdell, 58, shooting
  14.  May 30, 2020 Tyrone Campbell, 45, shooting
  15. June 2, 2020 Dontae Barnes, shooting
  16. June 21, 2020, Robert Neal, 34, stabbing
  17. July 1, 2020, Covvie Scott, 24, shooting
  18. July 6, 2020, Joseph Ahr Sr., Pepper Spray acute respiratory failure
  19. July 8, 2020, Richard Guarderas, 18, shooting
  20. July 8, 2020, Malcom L. Bowser, 19, shooting 
  21. July 15, 2020, Jason Phillips, 23, shooting
  22. July 17, 2020, Luis Gonzalez, 37, shooting
  23. August 2, 2020 died August 5, 2020, Jolisa Marshall, 28, shooting (of Hamilton)
  24. August 9, 2020, William Irrizarry, 18, shooting
  25. August 9, 2020, Julius Vargas, 18, shooting
  26. August 17, 2020, Rahkeem Ortiz, 29, shooting
  27. August 21, 2020, pronounced dead August 22, Vernetta McCray, 39, drive by shooting
  28. August 25, 2020, Shamira Williams, 32, stabbing
  29. August 29, 2020, Tybree Washington, 24, shooting
  30. October 2, 2020, Hussain Abdullah, 35, shooting
  31. October 5, 2020, Derek Colley, 26, Shooting
  32. October 10, 2020, Ola Williams, 61, Shooting
  33. October 10, 2020, Jaquise Melvin, 26, Shooting
  34. October 16, 2020 from shooting on October 9, Rudy Alvira Jr.
  35. October 20, 2020, Johnny Perez, 8, Shooting
  36. October 20, 2020, Gustavo Perez, 16
  37. November 13, 2020, Sam Livingston III, age 41, stabbing
  38. November 17, 2020, Jeremy McTamney, 26, Shooting, Ties Trenton’s record of homicides in 2013.
  39. November 28, 2020, Daniel Alvaranga, 33, Stabbing
  40. November 29, 2020, Omar Billups, 37, Shooting
  41. December 8, 2020, Joel Alexander, 49, Shooting

Not in NJ but across the river in Falls Township, Pennsylvania May 24, 2020 Davon Frink, 25, shooting at a Holiday Inn Express at a Trenton party held there.