An Atlantic City police officer who fatally shot a teen suspect in December was justified, a grand jury found Thursday.
Derreck Mack, 18, was killed Dec. 17 during a police chase sparked by a call from an officer working with federal investigators targeting an alleged drug-trafficking ring known as Dirty Blok.
“The officer had a third of a second to make a life-or-death determination,” acting Atlantic County Prosecutor Jim McClain said after announcing the decision.
McClain presented the case to the grand jury himself, asking only whether the shooting was justified.
The jury’s answer: Yes.
So, no criminal charges were presented.
“I want to just emphasize there are no winners here,” acting Police Chief Henry White said in a telephone interview following the announcement. “This tragic incident has taken a severe toll on the Mack family, on our officer’s family, and it’s taken a toll on the entire Atlantic City Police Department. I’m just glad to have the truth come out.”
McClain detailed the case during a news conference Thursday, including showing a map of the area and a picture of the .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol found about five feet from where Mack fell. The gun was operable and fully loaded, with a round in the chamber, McClain said.
Several large rallies were held after the shooting demanding police name the officer publicly and that he be charged criminally. Mack’s mother, Ruby Conde, did not reply to requests for comment Thursday.
The Prosecutor’s Office led the investigation, which included a re-enactment of the events. All information was also given to a nationally known independent expert.
Atlantic City police were not involved in the investigation.
The details surrounding how police were called to the scene in reference to possibly armed men were not fully made public until last month, when 25 alleged Dirty Blok members and associates were arrested in an FBI-led investigation that charged 34 people with trafficking drugs. The 225-page criminal complaint that accompanied those arrests revealed it was officers involved in the federal investigation who notified police.
Just before the 2 p.m. shooting, Mack was seen in what appeared to be a hand-to-hand drug transaction with Terry Davis, 24, according to what an Atlantic City police officer who was working with federal investigators told police.
Mack was seen repeatedly adjusting a large object in the area of his waist under his jacket, the report states. The officer told plainclothes detectives to see whether the men were armed.
But as soon as the officers identified themselves, Mack and Davis fled, McClain said.
The report states that Davis fled east on Baltic Avenue, threw a handgun to the ground and was apprehended without incident. A handgun was recovered.
Mack was running across Baltic back toward Rosemont Place when he tripped and fell, the report states. When he got up, officers saw a silver handgun in his hand as he continued north down Rosemont.
A plainclothes detective and two uniformed officers stated they saw the gun.
The officers shouted for Mack to stop and surrender.
“Mack did not stop nor surrender,” McClain said.
A third uniformed officer then joined the chase, parking his vehicle at Baltic and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, and ran through the courtyard to intercept Mack, the report states.
The officer told investigators he saw Mack slow down, raise his left hand and begin to turn toward him. But, the officer said, the right hand he saw the gun in remained at Mack’s waist.
“Fearing that Mack was about to shoot him, the officer fired his weapon three times,” McClain said.
Two bullets struck Mack in the upper left side of his back. The third lodged in a car parked nearby.
One civilian witness — who was about 50 feet from where Mack fell — had an unobstructed view and gave a statement consistent with the officer’s version, McClain said.
A second civilian witness — who was about 330 feet away and had a partially obstructed view — at first appeared to contradict the officer’s version, McClain said. But the expert found that, considering the witness’ vantage point, it was consistent.
“It was the opinion of the independent expert that, under the totality of the circumstances, the officer’s version of the shooting is supported by the evidence and that the officer’s use of deadly force was not only justified, but that the officer had no other reasonable course of action available at the time,” McClain said.
Mack’s family was told of the grand jury’s decision Thursday morning through an attorney at Conde’s request, McClain said.
White, who is acting chief while Ernest Jubilee is on a pre-scheduled vacation, and Public Safety Director Willie Glass thanked the prosecutor and Chief of Atlantic County Detectives Daren Dooley for the quick and thorough investigation.
“I also want to thank the community for being patient and to allow this investigation to take its course,” Glass said. “We feel badly for the Mack family for their loss, and for what the police officer has gone through and continues to go through. We pray for them all.”
McClain could not say what Mack’s believed involvement was in Dirty Blok, as it was a federally led investigation. But the teen was on probation for a juvenile gun charge at the time of the shooting and also had a pending gun charge.
Davis is in federal custody charged with heroin distribution in the Dirty Blok case.
Meanwhile, the officer involved remains on administrative leave with pay. He will be assessed for fitness before returning to duty.
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