ATLANTIC CITY — A grand jury Wednesday cleared the Atlantic City officer who opened fire and killed the man who shot his partner, Joshlee Vadell, in the head in September.
“I’m happy he was cleared because he did everything right,” Vadell said in a statement. “I’m proud of him for his actions that night.”
The decision Wednesday also revealed what led to Vadell’s shooting and the death of 25-year-old Jerome Damon on Sept. 3.
Acting Atlantic County Prosecutor Diane Ruberton released new details of the case, including what Damon did between the time he shot Vadell and was found dead in bushes outside Caesars Atlantic City.
Vadell and his partner, who authorities have not identified, were on patrol just before 3:30 a.m. when they interrupted an armed robbery on Arkansas Avenue near the Caesars parking garage.
Two 17-year-olds and an 18-year-old were at Tropicana Atlantic City earlier that night. After they left, they came across Damon, of Camden, Demetris Cross, 28, of Bridgeton, and Martel D. Chisolm, now 30, of Pleasantville. The men asked the teens if they had any marijuana to buy.
The teens told police they then walked through the Caesars parking garage and ran into the three men again.
Damon pulled out a revolver and demanded everything they had. Two of the teens were forced to the ground and then up against a wall as Damon went through their pockets. Police said Chisolm held one of the teens by the shirt while Cross acted as a lookout.
After he rifled through the two teens’ pockets, Damon turned to the third teen, held the gun to his head and pulled the teen’s pants down to his ankles while looking for money, the prosecutor’s statement said.
Vadell and his partner saw the group, and Vadell told his partner to turn down Arkansas Avenue to investigate, according to Ruberton. They saw the teen standing in his boxers with his pants around his ankles and his hands on his head.
The teen yelled to the officers for help, saying they were being robbed.
As Vadell got out of the patrol car’s passenger seat, Damon shot him in the head, Ruberton said. He spent weeks in the hospital before being released Nov. 9.
His partner turned and exchanged fire with Damon as Damon ran toward Trump Plaza.
The officer fired 16 shots toward Damon, hitting him once, and lost sight of him as he ran. He then began to give medical aid to Vadell.
The other five men ran away as well. Both officers were wearing body cameras, but neither had time to activate them as they approached the scene, according to Ruberton’s statement.
Two unidentified witnesses gave police details that backed up the teens’ statements.
One was a person sitting on a bench in front of Ruby Tuesday’s on Atlantic Avenue. As Vadell’s car rolled by and turned on the lights, the witness followed to Arkansas and Atlantic avenues to see what was happening. The witness told police there were several men sitting on the ground as Vadell’s car pulled up. When the officers got out of the car, the witness told police they saw Vadell being shot and his partner return fire.
The second witness had a much closer encounter, according to the investigation. That witness was a private security guard patrolling the parking lot of Trump Plaza in a golf cart. The witness heard gunshots and then saw Damon come out of the Caesars parking garage. Damon pointed a gun at the guard, took the golf cart and drove away around the Trump Plaza parking lot.
When Damon was unable to get out of the lot, he abandoned the cart and walked toward Caesars.
His body was found about one and a half blocks from the scene in bushes near the entrance to Caesars at Missouri and Pacific avenues. Damon died of a single gunshot wound to the upper back, according to Ruberton. Police found Damon’s gun, which had been fired four times. Ruberton also released screenshots of surveillance footage that she said showed Damon firing at Vadell’s partner.
“We cannot forget that many lives were affected on Sept. 3, 2016,” Chief Henry White Jr. said in a statement. “The outpouring of support by our community, both near and far, and the law-enforcement community has been overwhelming.”
“We’re beyond pleased and thankful to the grand jury who made it official today what we knew all along,” said PBA Local 24 President Matt Rogers. “Josh’s partner was a hero that day.”
The two other suspects, Cross and Chisolm, face charges including two counts of attempted murder of a police officer, three counts of robbery, two counts of conspiracy to commit robbery, two counts of possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose and two counts of consipracy to commit possession of a firearm for an unlawful purpose. Both men are in the Atlantic County jail on $750,000 bail. If convicted on all counts, the men face at least 80 years in prison.
Staff Writer Nick Huba contributed to this report.
*A previous version of this report said the teenagers tried to buy marijuana from Damon, Cross and Chisolm.