HACKENSACK, N.J. – A grand jury in Hackensack cleared two city police officers in the shooting death of an ex-con with a lengthy criminal history who charged at them with a large knife, threatening to kill him, acting Bergen County Prosecutor Gurbir S. Grewal announced Thursday evening.
ALSO SEE: The shooting death of a knife-wielding man by a Hackensack police officer was legally justified and didn’t require a grand jury review, acting Bergen County Prosecutor Gurbir S. Grewal said Thursday night.******
Elvin Jesus Diaz, 24, was pronounced dead at Hackensack University Medical Center roughly 90 minutes after the incident at his parents’ Temple Avenue home on May 21, 2015.
The officers went to the house on a welfare check requested by Diaz’s probation officer after he skipped several appointments, Grewal said.
She told them he “suffered from schizoaffective disorder,” the prosecutor added.
One of the officers had previously dated Diaz’s mother – “in fact, [he] had exchanged text messages with her earlier that morning,” Grewal said, adding that the messages didn’t involve her son in any way.
The second officer was a distant relative of Diaz, he said.
Everything then happened within six minutes, Grewal said.
“Upon seeing the two uniformed officers, Mr. Diaz backed up into a small kitchen area, which was approximately 6 feet 6 inches wide and 12 feet 7 inches long,” the prosecutor said. “Mr. Diaz then grabbed a meat cleaver, which he held over his head.
“Thereafter, Officers 1 and 2 drew their service weapons and gave a series of verbal commands for Mr. Diaz to put down the weapon and to remain calm.”
Family members were kept in a separate bedroom away from the kitchen, he added.
“In response to verbal commands from the police officers, Mr. Diaz stated: ‘What the [expletive] you talking about? Who the [expletive] is looking for me? I ain’t going nowhere. You better [expletive] kill me before I [expletive] kill you.’
“The officers again commanded Mr. Diaz to drop the meat cleaver, and Mr. Diaz responded, ‘I know how this works. Bullet to the head. Bullet to the head. Come on. [Expletive] kill me boy, before I [expletive] kill you.’
Diaz “remained in the kitchen, rocking back and forth, while holding the meat cleaver over his head,” the prosecutor said.
“During this standoff, Officer 2 called to Officer 3, who was positioned outside the kitchen in the hallway, and asked Officer 3 to call the S.W.A.T. team for assistance.
“Immediately thereafter, Mr. Diaz, who was within approximately ten feet from the officers in the kitchen, lunged forward at them with the meat cleaver,” Grewal said.
“In response, both officers fired their weapons,” he said.
“Officer 1 fired nine rounds and Officer 2 fired one round,” the prosecutor said. “Three rounds hit Mr. Diaz in the arm and shoulder area, where he was holding the meat cleaver up over his head.
“Both officers stopped firing their weapons after they saw Mr. Diaz fall to the ground.
“Mr. Diaz landed face down with the meat cleaver tucked under his chest area. As he was on the ground, the officers continued to command him to release the meat cleaver from his hand.
“Mr. Diaz was handcuffed and the meat cleaver was located after his body was turned to the side.”
“Although neither of the family members who were present in the residence witnessed the shooting, one family member explicitly corroborated hearing the police officers repeatedly commanding Mr. Diaz to drop the weapon,” Grewal said.
“A portion of these commands were also recorded when Officer 3 called headquarters for additional assistance,” he said.
“When interviewed by BCPO detectives shortly after the incident, the other family member present at the residence also stated that the police officers instructed Mr. Diaz to calm down and to ‘drop it’,” the prosecutor said.
Backups requested an ambulance and city firefighters administered first aid, the prosecutor said.
An ambulance arrived within minutes, he said.
An autopsy later turned up nine bullet wounds.
******A records check by CLIFFVIEW PILOT turned up several incidents involving Diaz the previous five years:
After family members reported him missing in late July 2010, he set fire to his car on Johnson Avenue and was rushed to the hospital after city firefighters pulled him out, Mordaga said. Police later charged him with arson.
Three months later, officers responded to his parents’ home because he was acting violently, the director said. They subdued Diaz and an ambulance took him to Bergen Regional Medical Center, he said.
In January 2012, family members again reported him missing.
Diaz was arrested on drug charges in May 2013 and again a month later on a drug-related warrant, criminal records show. He pleaded guilty and received probation.
Diaz was suspected in a burglary when officers approached him in December 2014 and he turned on them, sending one to the hospital, authorities said at the time.
He was charged with assault on police, resisting arrest and obstruction, then posted $15,000 bail and was released three days later from the Bergen County Jail.
Two weeks after that, Diaz was issued a disorderly person’s summons for an unspecified incident, the director said.
A family friend told CLIFFVIEW PILOT that he’d moved back to Hackensack after a brief stay in Florida last year and was living with his Dominican-born mother in the home at 10 Temple Avenue that his parents, Julian and Cecilia, bought near the corner of Main Street 15½ years ago.
Diaz had been diagnosed depressive and complained to friends that he’d had trouble finding work because of people’s reactions to his neck and facial tattoos, several of which he’d recently gotten.
Grewal said his office’s investigation included “16 witness interviews; a review, measurement, and three-dimensional rendering of the scene; the collection and review of forensic evidence collected at the scene; review of ballistics reports; [and] the collection and review of all available audio and video recordings.
He said it also included “active consultation with the Bergen County Medical Examiner and critical review of the BCME’s report on Mr. Diaz’s death; review of all HPD reports related to the May 21, 2015 incident; and a review of training records related to the two HPD officers involved in the shooting.”
Among the witnesses were police officers, a Bergen County Probation Department officer who’d been supervising Diaz and three civilians, the prosecutor said.
Grewal, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney, said his office’s investigation was “conducted in compliance with all relevant provisions of the Attorney General’s Directive. In addition, a comprehensive conflicts inquiry was conducted to ensure that no actual or potential conflict of interest existed for Acting Prosecutor Grewal, former Prosecutor John L. Molinelli, or any of the supervisors or detectives assigned to the investigation.”
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