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