Plainclothes officers shot and paralyzed a black man in New Jersey who was eating iced tea from a car last month, according to a lawsuit alleging excessive force, negligence and racial profiling.
Jajuan R. Henderson, 29, was getting the drink from a Saturn Ion parked outside his home shortly after midnight on February 12 in Trenton, according to a civil lawsuit filed Wednesday in Mercer County.
That was when a group of men in dark clothing and masks were driving an unidentified car trapped in Sathorn, which was parked parallel, according to the lawsuit. Henderson did not know who the men were.
The lawsuit said that as soon as the men got out of their car, they started screaming and Henderson then tried to use his phone to call for help.
The suit said one of the men smashed the driver’s side window and injured Henderson four times.
“This group of men, who appeared like any other group of dangerous criminals from a horror movie, turned out to be from the Trenton Police Department,” the suit said.
The black man sitting in a car in the middle of the night while on a mobile phone was all the unidentified cops who needed to smash the driver’s side window. Despite being unarmed, unthreatening, and attentive to his own affairs, the police proceeded to use lethal force and shoot Jajuan in the neck. It is a miracle that Jagwan has survived.”
The lawsuit said Henderson is now paralyzed from the bottom of his chest.
The defendants were named after the city of Trenton, Trenton Police Chief Steve E. Wilson, and four officers identified only by their initials who were at the scene.
Wilson did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Friday. A city spokesperson declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing “pending litigation.”
Derek Demery, a lawyer representing Henderson, told NBC News Friday that there were many unknowns in the case, such as the target of the plainclothes officers that night.
According to the lawsuit, there are camera footage of the body that has not been released to the public. The lawsuit said the identities of the officers who responded to the attack were also withheld.
A 2018 attorney general directive states that video footage must be made public, upon request, once the initial use of force is substantially complete. – Usually within 20 days, NJ.com reported.
“It is very frustrating. The family has a right to be transparent in this process,” Demere said.
Trenton spokesman Tim Carroll – speaking for the city and the police department – declined to comment further than saying an investigation was underway.
“The City of Trenton has fully complied with the required prosecutor’s review of the February 12 incident, and is awaiting the outcome,” Carroll said.
A Mercer County District Attorney’s spokesperson said the state attorney’s office has postponed a separate investigation into the officers’ actions to the Union District Attorney’s Office due to a conflict of interest.
Demere said that in addition to being paralyzed, Henderson was charged with aggravated assault, resisting arrest and obstruction of justice. Demery said the aggravated assault charges, four counts, were eventually dropped by the Mercer County District Attorney’s Office.
A spokesperson for the attorney general’s office said Friday that the office is still prosecuting Henderson for resisting arrest and obstruction. The spokesman did not explain why the aggravated assault charges were dismissed.
The affidavit against Henderson filed by Mercer prosecutors explains the police’s view of what preceded the shooting.
The affidavit said Trenton Police’s street crime units, 511 and 513, attempted to stop a vehicle at Saturn on the night of the accident.
The affidavit said Henderson refused to cooperate with FBI orders to roll the window and get out of the car. The affidavit said he was also unable to provide a driver’s license or proof of Saturn’s registration and insurance.
Henderson’s lawsuit said the car was owned by the mother of his child.
The affidavit said Henderson also refused orders to stop in the back seat, prompting an officer to smash the driver’s window. Henderson then, according to the affidavit, turned on the ignition and attempted to escape, hitting two parked cars while the officers were nearby.
Henderson’s lawsuit said it was unclear whether he turned on the ignition, but that escape was impossible, given that the vehicle was trapped between vehicles on three sides with a fourth side locked by a utility pole on the vehicle’s passenger side.
None of the officers was injured. The four officers have been placed on administrative leave, according to a county attorney general’s statement from last month.
Demery said Henderson is a fighter working through rehab and trying to gain mobility. But he has a long way to go.
Under the circumstances, Demere said his client behaved like most people.
“Anyone in this situation would be very afraid for their life.”