BOOZED-UP PA­TROL

Al­co­hol found in pa­trol car of Tren­ton cop in­volved in re­cent shoot­ing, sources say

The Trentonian (Trenton, NJ) - - FRONT PAGE - By David Foster dfos­ter@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @tren­to­nian­david on Twit­ter

TREN­TON » A city cop had his pa­trol car loaded up like a ve­hi­cle at a tail­gate party.

But in­stead of head­ing to a big game, Sgt. Ja­son Ast­bury’s marked po­lice car was found dur­ing a po­lice-in­volved shoot­ing last month to have a cooler full of wine cool­ers and a half-empty bot­tle of whiskey, nu­mer­ous po­lice sources told The Tren­to­nian.

The sources, who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause they were not au­tho­rized to speak on the mat­ter, said the Mercer County Homi­cide Task Force and New Jer­sey State Po­lice found the booze in the po­lice car.

“Here we are with the peo­ple who are sworn ser­vants of peo­ple to pro­tect and serve who are now do­ing the same thing they’re say­ing to the peo­ple they shouldn’t be do­ing,” prom­i­nent city ac­tivist Dar­ren “Free­dom” Green said Wed­nes­day, per­plexed how this of­fi­cer was run­ning around with al­co­holic bev­er­ages while on duty. “This is reck­less aban­don and a vi­o­la­tion of the law. So how can some­body who’s sworn to up­hold the law have any re­spect in­side the com­mu­nity and he’s vi­o­lat­ing the law?”

The po­lice-in­volved shoot­ing oc­curred at ap­prox­i­mately 5:15 p.m. on Nov. 25 near the in­ter­sec­tion of Cal­houn Street and Pen­ning­ton Av­enue af­ter city of­fi­cers learned a sus­pect had a gun in his waist­band. That sus­pect ran, pulled out the gun, then turned his body to­ward the de­tec­tives. So, two cops fired their service weapon at him.

Law en­force­ment sources say Ast­bury and of­fi­cer Matthew Hutchin­son shot at the sus­pect, strik­ing him sev­eral times. The sus­pect sus­tained gun­shot wounds to both arms and took a through-and-through bul­let to the stom­ach.

Po­lice re­cov­ered the sus­pect’s gun in a nearby yard, ac­cord­ing to pros­e­cu­tors.

Sources say Ast­bury and Hutchin­son were both blood tested fol­low­ing the shoot­ing, which is stan­dard pol­icy.

A spokes­woman for the Mercer County Pros­e­cu­tor’s Of­fice said Wed­nes­day in an email that the shoot­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion is on­go­ing and de­clined to dis­cuss the al­co­hol.

“We do not com­ment on on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions,” pros­e­cu­tor’s of­fice spokes­woman Casey DeBla­sio said.

There are some dis­crep­an­cies about who the al­co­hol be­longed to in the depart­ment.

Some sources told The Tren­to­nian that the pa­trol ve­hi­cle is not specif­i­cally Ast­bury’s car. They claim it was a “su­per­vi­sor’s” car that Ast­bury hap­pened to be driv­ing that night.

Some sources con­tend a dif­fer­ent su­per­vi­sor was hold­ing the al­co­hol for an­other cop, and it had been in the ve­hi­cle for nearly a month. Those of­fi­cers are al­legedly co­op­er­at­ing with in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

The booze in the pa­trol car was not con­fis­cated from an ar­restee since the su­per­vi­sors don’t trans­port pris­on­ers, the sources said.

But Ast­bury should not be off the hook ei­ther.

City po­lice are re­spon­si­ble for check­ing each pa­trol ve­hi­cle at the start and end of ev­ery shift, but that rarely hap­pens, the sources said.

The con­tro­versy prompted po­lice sources and Green to ques­tion the lead­er­ship of the Tren­ton Po­lice Depart­ment. Tren­ton Po­lice Di­rec­tor Ernest Par­rey Jr. has been em­broiled in con­tro­versy since the sum­mer af­ter he was cap­tured on video re­fer­ring to res­i­dents as “hoodrats.”

“We’re not cer­tainly sure of where the po­lice di­rec­tor is in terms of what he is do­ing,” said Green, who is ru­mored to be run­ning for mayor next year. “We’ve al­ready had pre­vi­ous his­tor­i­cal is­sues with his de­ci­sion-mak­ing process. Is he go­ing to hold th­ese of­fi­cers to the stan­dards we need them to be held to? They keep talk­ing to us about com­mu­nity/po­lice re­la­tion­ships — how does this help at all? We can’t even re­spect the law en­force­ment of­fi­cer who is vi­o­lat­ing the law.”

Green said the in­ci­dent high­lights the prob­lem­atic is­sues through­out the po­lice depart­ment.

“If he has al­co­holic bev­er­ages dur­ing a po­lice-in­volved shoot­ing, he’s clearly vi­o­lat­ing the law al­ready,” the ac­tivist said. “So what says he won’t vi­o­late our civil and hu­man rights? He’s not some­body to be walk­ing around with a gun and in­ter­act­ing with peo­ple on the streets.”

One po­lice source said the al­co­hol in­ci­dent shows Di­rec­tor Par­rey has “zero con­trol” of the po­lice depart­ment. An­other source claimed the booze was al­lowed to be placed in the ve­hi­cle be­cause an of­fi­cer has a re­la­tion­ship with the di­rec­tor and as­sumed Par­rey wouldn’t have a problem with it.

Tren­ton Mayor Eric Jack­son has con­tin­ued to stick by his po­lice di­rec­tor, whom he ap­pointed in 2014, de­spite the con­tro­ver­sies con­tin­u­ing to pile up as he heads into an elec­tion year. Both may­oral can­di­dates who have an­nounced they are run­ning in May — Tren­ton Coun­cil­man Alex Bethea and 2014 run­nerup Paul Perez — have called for Par­rey to be re­moved.

The first-term mayor did not re­turn a mes­sage seek­ing com­ment.

The cop ac­cused of hav­ing the booze in his ve­hi­cle also has a no­to­ri­ous past in the po­lice depart­ment.

Ast­bury, a known bad boy within the ranks, was the re­cip­i­ent of a tem­po­rary re­strain­ing or­der in 2013 af­ter he had an af­fair with his co­worker’s wife. Ac­cord­ing to a law­suit, Ast­bury had his per­sonal and work guns con­fis­cated be­cause of the in­ci­dent.

How­ever, the law­suit stems from Ast­bury su­ing the city, claim­ing he was not al­lowed to use his service gun af­ter the re­strain­ing or­der had been dis­solved, thus vi­o­lat­ing his con­sti­tu­tional and due process rights.

Ast­bury’s at­tor­ney in the case, Ge­orge Dougherty, said Wed­nes­day he had not heard any­thing about the booze-in-the-car in­ci­dent.

Gen­er­ally speak­ing, the at­tor­ney said the pros­e­cu­tor’s of­fice will review the case and if there are no crim­i­nal charges, the agency will re­fer the case back to Tren­ton with di­rec­tions or in­struc­tions.

“They might even direct them to sus­pend, pend­ing the hear­ing, if it’s some­thing that re­ally af­fects his abil­ity to per­form his du­ties prop­erly, and this might,” Dougherty said.

Ast­bury, a 17-year vet­eran, was also re­cently named in a ex­ces­sive force law­suit for dis­lo­cat­ing a woman’s el­bow who was ar­rested in a kid­nap­ping case in May 2016.

In May 2012, a probe was launched by the Mercer County Pros­e­cu­tor’s Of­fice and Tren­ton In­ter­nal Af­fairs fol­low­ing the high-speed po­lice chase fa­tal­ity of 20-year-old Oren­thia “Pookie” Up­shur Jr. Ac­cord­ing to a press re­lease from the pros­e­cu­tor’s of­fice at the time, “po­lice had rea­son to ques­tion whether the facts as ini­tially re­ported by re­spond­ing of­fi­cers were com­plete.”

Dur­ing the May 3, 2012 in­ci­dent, Ast­bury and of­fi­cer Wilfredo Del­gado pur­sued Up­shur un­til the 20-year-old’s car slammed head-on into a util­ity pole.

The Mercer County Pros­e­cu­tor’s Of­fice cleared the of­fi­cers of any crim­i­nal wrong­do­ing, but re­ferred the mat­ter back to the po­lice depart­ment for an in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

In 2011, As­bury won the prized “Of­fi­cer of the Year” honor. Dur­ing his ten­ure, the Hamil­ton res­i­dent has been as­signed to the depart­ment’s rob­bery, Tac­ti­cal An­tiCrime, crim­i­nal in­tel­li­gence/gang, shoot­ing re­sponse and crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion units.

TREN­TO­NIAN FILE PHOTO

Tren­ton po­lice in­ves­ti­gate a po­lice-in­volved shoot­ing on the 100 block of Pen­ning­ton Ave on Nov. 25. Po­lice found booze in the pa­trol car of one of the of­fi­cers who shot the sus­pect.

SUB­MIT­TED IM­AGE

Ja­son Ast­bury

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