U.S. Attorney Decision To Not Seek Civil Rights Charges Against FTPD Officers In Grant Shooting Not Widely Publicized

First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens’ Senior Pastor, the Rev. DeForest “Buster” Soaries, right, presents an award to then-U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman in 2015. Soaries received word in February that Fishman’s office would not seek civil rights charges against two FTPD officers involved in the shooting death of Diahlo Grant.

In what is one of the best-kept secrets in the township, the two Franklin Township Police officers involved in the April 9, 2016 shooting death of a township resident will not face a federal civil rights investigation.

Although that determination was made in February, township officials reached for comment said they had not heard about it, and the person who asked for the investigation placed a statement about the denial in an online publication based in a town not involved in the incident.

The investigation had been called for late last year by the Rev. DeForest “Buster” Soaries, senior pastor at First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens, after the officers involved in the shooting had been cleared by the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office and the state Attorney General’s Division of Criminal Justice.

In a Feb. 8, 2017 letter to Soaries, then-U.S. Attorney for the New Jersey district Paul J. Fishman wrote that based on an “independent review of the facts and circumstances, we have determined that federal civil rights charges against the police officers involved in the incident are not warranted.”

Soaries’ request stemmed from the April 9, 2016 shooting of 27-year-old Diahlo Grant by a township police officer, after Grant had led the officer and partner on a chase from the township into New Brunswick. The officers had stopped Grant because they recognized that he was wanted on two warrants.

In New Brunswick, the officers cornered Grant at a chain-link fence, after which Grant pulled a gun and fired once at the officers, missing. One of the officers then returned fire, hitting Grant several times. Grant later died from his injuries.

The details of the incident were provided by Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew Carey at the time of the incident, and also in his final report on the investigation, in which he said the officers’ actions were justified.

Soaries promised in July 2016 that he would ask for the federal investigation after the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office finished theirs.

Soaries’ original letter was faxed to the US Attorney’s office in October 2016, but had not been seen by the staff there until Jan. 4, 2017, according to Fishman’s letter.

In his letter, Fishman told Soaries that the U.S. Attorney’s Office was aware of the incident “immediately after it occurred and we quickly obtained preliminary information about the circumstances from the F.B.I. and the MCPO. Since that time, a senior attorney in my office who specializes in civil rights prosecutions has obtained and carefully reviewed MCPO’s entire file, as well as other available information.”

Fishman said it was based on that review that the determination was made the civil rights charges against the officers were not warranted.

“I appreciate and share your view that there must not only be justice for all citizens, but also the public perception of justice,” Fishman wrote.

The only public statement made by Soaries on Fishman’s decision came on Feb. 22, in a press release posted to the South Brunswick Patch web site. In that statement, Soaries said that he was “satisfied that the police fatal shooting of Diahlo Grant in New Brunswick April 9, 2016 has been reviewed properly, up to the highest offices of law enforcement in this land.”

“We requested this independent review so that the Grant family and our community would have no doubt that appropriate law enforcement procedures were used without civil rights violations,” Soaries wrote in the statement. “I am satisfied that U.S. Attorney Fishman’s office was involved in this matter quickly and acted forthrightly to protect the civil rights of not only Diahlo Grant but of all New Jersey residents.”

“The level of scrutiny involved in this case should help bring closure to outstanding concerns about this matter even while we continue our critical dialogue about the gaps in understanding and respect between police personnel and African Americans throughout our nation,” Soaries wrote. “While we, in Franklin Township, have enjoyed a relatively healthy relationship between black citizens and the local police we must continue to acknowledge the tragic loss of yet another young black man’s life and use this experience to end the circumstances that allowed this to happen.”

Soaries’ October 2016 request for the U.S. Attorney to look into the matter was publicized with a widely disseminated press release, and Soaries said that he was considering the move in a meeting with media after Grant’s April 25, 2016 funeral.

The Franklin Reporter & Advocate has repeatedly asked for updates about Soaries’ request to the U.S. Attorney since late last year, including on Feb. 15, 2016, a week after Fishman’s letter to Soaries was written, and a week prior to Soaries’ statement was posted to the Patch web site by Brianna Smallwood, who handles press relations for FBCLG.

Smallwood has posted Soaries’ press releases on the Patch site intermittently since September 2016.

The FR&A sent additional requests for information on Soaries’ request to Smallwood on April 7 and May 3, 2017, neither of which received replies.

In a June 16, 2017 email from the FR&A asking why the statement had only been posted on an out-of-town web site, Smallwood said that she’d only posted this statement on Patch, “not realizing it hadn’t been sent directly to you.”

“This is not the only thing I do for FBCLG, so my apologies if this slipped through the cracks,” she wrote.

An FTPD spokesman said that neither Police Chief Lawrence Roberts nor anyone else in the department was told of Fishman’s decision.

“We are only notified if an investigation is commenced,” said spokesman Lt. Phil Rizzo. “We were not notified of the U.S. Attorney’s decision.”

Mayor Phil Kramer said that he, too, did not know of the decision.

“I had no communication with the Reverend on the issue,” Kramer said.


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