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Jackson Cop Cleared in Officer Involved Shooting

TOMS RIVER-In compliance with the New Jersey Attorney General’s Law Enforcement Directive 2006-5 and the July 28, 2015 Attorney General Supplemental Law
Enforcement Directive Regarding Uniform Statewide Procedures and Best Practices  for Conducting Police Use of Force Investigations this public statement is being
issued regarding the December 23, 2017 Jackson Township Police Officer involved shooting of Travis Van Pelt.

The Office of the Attorney General agrees with former Ocean County  Prosecutor Joseph D. Coronato that the use of deadly force was legally justified and JOSEPH D. CORONATO Ocean County Prosecutor GLENN M. MILLER Chief of Detectives JOHN R. CORSON JR. First Assistant Prosecutor ROBERT ARMSTRONG Executive Assistant Prosecutor that there are no material facts in dispute that require presentation of this matter to  the Grand Jury.

The facts surrounding the shooting are as follows: On December 23, 2017 at  1955 hours, the Jackson Township Police Department received a 9-1-1 call from Tyler Van Pelt who reported that his brother, Travis Van Pelt was intoxicated and had assaulted both him and his father. As a result, police dispatch sent uniformed police officers to the family home on Laurel Avenue. Dispatch informed the officers that Van Pelt had been wielding a knife.

Sergeant Wayne Olejarz and Officer Anthony Riso, both in uniform, responded  to the radio call and were dispatched to the Laurel Avenue home in their marked police vehicles. Upon arrival, Officer Riso spoke with the Van Pelt’s family members outside the home. They informed Officer Riso that Van Pelt was inside the residence, armed with a knife and had threatened them. Sgt. Olejarz and Officer Riso attempted to make entry through the front and side doors, but were unsuccessful. The officers then went to the rear of the residence.

Officer Riso observed Van Pelt inside the residence through a window while approaching the back door but was unsuccessful in making contact with Van Pelt.

Sgt. Olejarz observed Van Pelt through the rear door and then forced it open. Sgt.  Olejarz observed Van Pelt with a serrated knife and yelled at him to “Drop the Knife”.
Van Pelt ignored his commands and continued advancing toward him with the knife in his hand. Sgt. Olejarz discharged his weapon and Van Pelt fell backward. Officer  Riso heard Sgt. Olejarz yell at least once, in a loud and clear voice, “Drop the knife!” while he was behind Sgt. Olejarz on the rear stoop. Officer Riso then entered the
residence and observed Van Pelt lying on the floor with a black serrated knife in  close proximity to his left hand.

Jackson Township Police notified the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office and Detectives from the OCPO Major Crimes Unit responded to undertake the investigation into Sgt. Olejarz’s use of force. During this time, MONOC Emergency Medical Services transported Van Pelt to Jersey Shore University Medical Center where he was listed in critical condition.

During his transport to the hospital and again in a formal statement to OCPO Detectives, Van Pelt stated that he knew that if he lunged at the officer that the officer
would have to shoot him and that felt terrible knowing that he forced the officer to shoot him. Van Pelt added that he lunged at the officer with the knife on purpose in
an attempt to commit suicide.

Travis Van Pelt was charged with Attempted Murder in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C: 5-1, Possession of a Weapon for an Unlawful Purpose, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4d, Aggravated Assault in violation of N.J.S.A 2C:12-1b (2) and two counts of Simple Assault, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1A. On May 29, 2018, Travis Van Pelt pled guilty to Aggravated Assault by Attempting to Cause Bodily Injury with a Deadly Weapon on Accusation 18-05-00957. On July 20, 2018, the Honorable Guy P. Ryan, J.S.C. sentenced Van Pelt to five years of probation after being credited for serving 158 days in the Ocean County Jail. He was released directly to Ancora Psychiatric Hospital for evaluation and treatment.

The Office of the Attorney General and former Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato are satisfied that the undisputed facts establish that Jackson Township Sgt. Wayne Olejarz used the appropriate force necessary to protect his life and that of his fellow officer and that he was legally justified in doing so. This investigation was conducted consistent with the New Jersey Attorney General’s Law Enforcement Directive 2006-5 and the July 28, 2015 Attorney General Supplemental Law Enforcement Directive Regarding Uniform Statewide Procedures and Best Practices for Conducting Police Use of Force Investigations.

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