On July 29, 2015, a Camden County grand jury voted to “no bill” the following case with regard to all of the officers involved in the fatal shooting of Daniel St. Pierre on August 1, 2014, on New Freedom Road in Berlin, New Jersey, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Winslow Township Police Department. With regard to the specific findings of the investigation concerning factual circumstances of the incident, the investigation revealed that on August 1, 2014, at approximately 8:17 a.m., a 62-year-old witness called the Winslow Township Police Department to a house on New Freedom Road in Berlin, New Jersey. The property consists of a house, a large garage/barn and a camper/trailer, which is parked on her property. The witness called the police to report that 42-year-old Daniel St. Pierre, was on the property and possibly armed.
The witness had recently been having difficulties with St. Pierre, who she advised police was addicted to heroin. Just four days before the fatal shooting, on July 28, 2014, the witness received a billing statement from a credit card company and realized someone had used her credit card to fraudulently purchase $5,000.00 worth of gift cards. She reported this incident to the police and, on Wednesday, July 30, 2014, had a confrontation with St. Pierre regarding the fraudulent purchases.
The following evening, July 31, 2014, the witness called the police to report that St. Pierre had stolen money and a laptop computer from her home. She called again shortly after midnight on August 1, 2014, when she realized that a handgun was missing from the house as well. During this second call, she advised the police she had received numerous texts from St. Pierre in which he threatened suicide. The officers responded by using her cell phone to text St. Pierre and encourage him to return. During this investigation, the witness consented to a forensic examination of her cell phone, which contained numerous texts in which St. Pierre repeatedly threatened to kill himself.
On the morning of August 1, 2014, a friend of the witness who uses the garage/barn for storage advised the witness that St. Pierre’s vehicle was in the garage. The friend advised the witness to stay out of the garage and proceeded to check the house for St. Pierre. St. Pierre was not in the house, which led the witness to believe he was in the camper/trailer that is parked on the property. The witness later told detectives she was afraid to go in the trailer. The witness called the police and waited for them on her front porch. When they arrived, she used a remote control to open the garage doors for the officers, and then returned to her front porch, where she remained while officers checked the property for St. Pierre.
Officer one (1) and Officer two (2) were the first officers on the scene. Once they gained entry into the garage/barn, they observed St. Pierre’s SUV with a hose duct taped to the muffler, going through a rear window, where it was also secured with duct tape, and ending under the right side of the driver’s seat. This appeared to be a suicide attempt and Officer 1 notified his Sergeant of the situation. St. Pierre was not in the vehicle or anywhere else in the garage.
Officers 1 and 2 next checked the camper/trailer, at first peering through the windows to see if anyone was inside. Seeing nothing, the officers entered the trailer. By this time, additional law enforcement personnel had arrived at the scene. In total, there were six officers on the scene: Officer 1, Officer 2, Officer three (3), Officer four (4) and Officer five (5); the Sergeant arrived as the officers were entering the trailer.
The trailer/camper has two doors on the same side of the structure: the left side door opens to the bedroom; the right side door opens to a kitchen/living room area. In between the two areas is a bathroom. Officer 2 and 4 entered through the kitchen door as Officers 1 and 5 entered through the bedroom door.
The confrontation that followed was captured by the dash board camera audio system in Patrolman 2’s patrol car, which was parked facing the garage/barn. The trailer cannot be viewed in the footage because it is behind the patrol car, however, the audio system did record the incident. Based on the audio that was captured, it appears that officers entering the camper/trailer encountered St. Pierre at 8:33:50 a.m. (camera time). At 8:33:54 a.m., an officer is heard yelling, “He’s got a gun!” This is immediately followed by an officer directing St. Pierre to, “Drop it! Drop it now!” A physical struggle can clearly be heard. At 8:34:11 a.m., an officer is heard asking another officer, “Do you have the gun?” and another officer replies, “No.” The struggle continues and at 8:34:29 a.m., a female voice is heard shouting, “He has it! He has it!” The first shot is fired at 8:34:32 a.m., followed by the same female voice yelling, “Drop it!” Two more gunshots followed at 8:34:37 a.m. and 8:34:38 a.m. A male voice is then heard yelling, “Drop it now!” and another male voice (presumably St. Pierre) replies, “I dropped it, I dropped it.” A final shot was fired at 8:34:46 a.m.
Based on statements from the officers involved, the following is a synopsis of what unfolded in the trailer: Officer 1 was the first officer to go through the door that opens into the bedroom area, which was very small and contained a full-size bed. When he opened the door, St. Pierre was laying on the bed with his feet near the trailer door. St. Pierre immediately sat up facing the officers. There was a gun near his left hand. Officer 1 ordered St. Pierre to show his hands. St. Pierre complied and Officer 1 placed a handcuff on St. Pierre’s left wrist. As he did this, St. Pierre turned toward the wall and grabbed a second handgun with his right hand. Officer 1 yelled, “He’s got a gun!” and dove into St. Pierre, knocking him backwards on the bed, face down with the gun in his right hand, which was under his chest.
A physical struggle between Officer 1 and St. Pierre ensued. St. Pierre twisted himself around and reached up with the gun, pointing it over his own left shoulder at Officer 5, who was also in the bedroom. Officer 5 then pushed both Officer 1 and St. Pierre up against the bedroom wall. St. Pierre ended up on his chest and angled toward the floor. He was given numerous commands to drop the gun. The Sergeant entered the trailer and attempted to control St. Pierre’s legs as he was kicking, positioning herself on his lower back/upper legs.
St. Pierre continued to refuse to comply with commands to drop the weapon and continued to physically struggle with the three officers. The Sergeant saw the gun still in St. Pierre’s hand and shot him one time in the buttocks. Officers continued to physically struggle with St. Pierre and issue commands to drop the weapon. St. Pierre again tried to reach over his own shoulder with the gun, at which time both Officer 5 and the Sergeant shot St. Pierre. He was again ordered to drop his weapon.
Although St. Pierre is heard on the dash cam audio saying, “I dropped it,” Officer 1, who was directly on top of St. Pierre throughout this struggle, advised detectives that St. Pierre never dropped the gun. He explained that he had his hand right on top of St. Pierre’s right hand, which held the gun. Officer 1 further advised that he began to lose control of St. Pierre’s right hand when St. Pierre began trying to roll over. When Officer 1 could no longer control the gun in St. Pierre’s hand, he used his left hand to pin down St. Pierre’s left shoulder while he unholstered his weapon with his right hand. He then fired a single round into St. Pierre’s head, behind his right ear. The struggle, which had lasted 56 seconds, immediately ceased.
Once the struggle was over, all the officers in the bedroom observed that St. Pierre still had the gun in his hand with his finger on the trigger. As officers called for additional assistance, one of the officers noticed St. Pierre was moving on the bed. Officer 1 immediately removed the gun from St. Pierre’s hand and St. Pierre was pulled out of the trailer on the mattress of the bed, where medical assistance was rendered. He was transported to Cooper University Hospital by helicopter. He was pronounced deceased at 9:24 a.m.
This entire matter has been reviewed by Prosecutor Mary Eva Colalillo and all portions of the Attorney General’s Law Enforcement Directive regarding uniform statewide procedures and best practices for conducting police use of force investigations that were in effect during the course of this investigation were complied with.
Released Tuesday, August 4, 2015.