Charges Dismissed in N.J. Shooting
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) _ A judge on Tuesday threw out criminal charges against two state troopers whose 1998 shooting of three minority motorists on the New Jersey Turnpike led to the state’s racial profiling controversy.
Superior Court Judge Andrew J. Smithson said overzealous prosecutors had set up a ``minitrial″ before the grand jury and repeatedly violated the troopers’ constitutional rights.
``There’s no legal authority in the state of New Jersey to justify the state’s action,″ Smithson said.
Troopers John Hogan and James Kenna had faced charges of attempted murder and aggravated assault after the April 23, 1998, shooting that wounded three of the four passengers in a van stopped for speeding.
All four men are minorities. Hogan and Kenna, who are white, pleaded innocent and said they fired at the van thinking the driver was trying to run them over. Both were suspended without pay.
A year later, the attorney general reversed years of denials that racial profiling was practiced by New Jersey troopers.
Official misconduct charges against the troopers still stand, and the state can present the shooting case again to another grand jury.
The judge said the troopers deserved the right to a fair trial as much as any other citizen. When prosecutors abused that right, he added, the only option was to dismiss the indictment.
Smithson also said he was disturbed by the state’s decision to make public another indictment on official misconduct charges while the grand jury hearing the shooting case was still in session.
The only explanation for that was the attorney general bowed to political pressure from protests on racial profiling, the judge said.
Last week, Smithson dismissed one charge of attempted murder against Hogan after Special Prosecutor James J. Gerrow admitted in court that part of the state’s theory was wrong.
The remaining indictment against the troopers alleges they falsified records to hide the race of motorists they stopped. Civil lawsuits filed by the victims are still pending against both troopers.
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