Monday, July 31, 2006

Newark cop kills suspect in drug deal: Bystanders claim 26-year-old had already been handcuffed

Monday, July 31, 2006
Star-Ledger Staff

A Newark man reaching for his gun during a drug arrest was shot and killed by a plainclothes police officer yesterday afternoon, city police said.

Bystanders told a different story. Two people who claimed to see the shooting said the man was arrested, handcuffed and then, when his arms were restrained, shot once in the back.

"They already had him handcuffed," said Jewell Younger, 18, who said she was a childhood friend of the man and was less than 30 feet away when the incident occurred. "If he was reaching for a gun, how could he do that if he had his hands in cuffs?"

"He had handcuffs already on," said Nahla Conover, 10, who at the time of the shooting was walking with her cousin to a local bus stop. "They had put him on the ground, they cursed at him -- I'm not going to repeat what they said -- and the police shot him in the back."

The shooting at West Alpine Street and Irvine Turner Boulevard that left 26-year-old Chakhan Nance dead is under investigation by the Newark Police Department's Office of Internal Affairs and the Essex County Prosecutor's Office.

According to police, five members of the department's Narcotics Enforcement Team were in the neighborhood to deal with a chronic drug dealing problem in the area.

The stretch along Irvine Turner Boulevard where Nance was shot is well-known as a place for out-of-towners, and some locals, to buy drugs before driving back to Route 78, out of Newark, authorities said.

Shortly after 1:40 p.m., police saw a narcotics transaction between Nance and another man and told both to stop, said Capt. Derek Glenn, a department spokesman.

The second man fled, but Nance was tackled to the ground by plainclothes police displaying their badges, Glenn said. He continued fighting the officers and tried to grab a gun hidden in the waistband of his pants, Glenn said.

Still struggling with Nance, officer Jose Dopazo, a five-year member of the Newark force, reached for his weapon and fired one shot into the man's side, police said.

Nance was not handcuffed, police said, and the injured man was taken to University Hospital in Newark, where he later died. Police said they recovered his .45-caliber gun and bullets in his pocket.

"Based on what I know thus far in the investigation, I believe this officer made the correct decision," acting Police Chief Anthony Campos said. "He took the action he felt was necessary to defend his life, the lives of the other officers and possibly someone else's."

But bystanders said it wasn't a life-or-death decision because Nance was handcuffed, on the ground and posed no danger to anyone.

A father of two young boys and the youngest of eight brothers and sisters, Nance served as a father figure to youngsters in the neighborhood, said bystanders who described themselves as the man's friends.

"You could basically say he was my father," said Jazz Goines, 18, who identified herself as Nance's niece. "He was a totally great guy. He always looked after everybody."

Goines and her friend, Taliah Reed, also 18, said on many nights, while hanging out in their neighborhood, Nance would make sure they went home before it got dark.

"He'd tell us to go in the house," Reed said. "He would walk some of us home. He prevented us from stuff like this. He didn't want to see anything like this."

Dopazo, 30, will stay on active duty with full pay during the investigation and the case will go before a grand jury for review, Glenn said.

Acting Chief Campos said he fully supports his officers' efforts to keep the city safe.

"It is unfortunate when an officer is put in a situation where he must make a life-and-death decision," Campos said.

Reducing crime in Newark is the focal point of the city's safe summer initiative introduced by Mayor Cory Booker nearly a month ago.

The plan calls for more police on the streets and more recreational activities for youngsters.

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