Shared from the 2/11/2017 Philadelphia Inquirer - Philly Edition eEdition

N.J. man’s shooting justified

Miscommunications sent two state troopers to the wrong door. He suspected prowlers.

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Fearing intruders, Gerald Sykes grabbed guns and walked through his living room toward the back deck, where the troopers were.

A New Jersey state trooper dispatched to the wrong home was justified in shooting the owner, who had grabbed his own weapons because he feared intruders were outside, authorities said Friday.

Gerald Sykes, 76 at the time of the incident, was shot twice in the chest and once in the upper groin at his home in Upper Deerfield Township, Cumberland County, just before midnight on July 29, 2016.

Miscommunications among emergency dispatchers caused two troopers to respond to Sykes’ home, where dispatchers believed someone had dialed 911 and hung up.

Sykes’ attorney, Rich Kaser, said Friday that the family was considering a lawsuit. He said the state’s decision was disappointing but not surprising.

“The state was investigating themselves,” he said.

Sykes, whose wife awakened him after she saw shadowy figures on the back deck, grabbed a shotgun and a revolver and walked into the living room, the state Attorney General’s Office said.

His wife, Margot, later told investigators she saw two men on the back deck with flashlights, and heard them saying they were police officers and asking whether anyone had called 911. Knowing she and her husband had been asleep and had not called 911, she did not believe the men were police officers, the Attorney General’s Office said.

The troopers, who were standing outside a sliding-glass door that leads into the living room, saw Gerald Sykes on the other side of the door. The troopers pulled their guns and yelled, “State police,” upon seeing Sykes point his shotgun at one of them, authorities said.

Sykes then aimed his shotgun and revolver toward the other trooper, who fired four shots from his 9mm service handgun, authorities said. That trooper moved back toward the garage, while the second trooper remained near the deck.

Sykes then fired once with his shotgun, grazing the left elbow of the second trooper, the Attorney General’s Office said. Both troopers ran to a patrol car and drove away to wait for backup.

Inside the home, Sykes called 911 and said he had been shot by “prowlers.” He then placed his shotgun on the front porch and walked to the front lawn, where other troopers who had responded handcuffed him until paramedics arrived.

The Attorney General’s Office said the troopers, before encountering Sykes, had rung the doorbell, knocked on the front door, and yelled that they were responding to a 911 hangup. One of the troopers also shined a flashlight on the other trooper’s uniform to show they were state police, authorities said.

The series of miscommunications that sent state police to the home began with a911 call made elsewhere in the county that night, by aman who wanted police to remove a cousin from his home to prevent a fight.

Cumberland County’s emergency dispatch center answered the call and tried to transfer it to the state police. But the county dispatcher hit the wrong button and accidentally transferred the call to Vineland, which has its own dispatch center.

The transfer was quickly canceled but came through to Vineland as a call that lasted two seconds, the Attorney General’s Office said. A Vineland dispatcher interpreted the call as a 911 hangup, looked up the location — which came up as the cell tower next to Sykes’ home — and alerted state police.

It is standard procedure in New Jersey for the Attorney General’s Office to investigate whether a police officer was justified in using deadly force. In a statement Friday, the office said, “Mr. Sykes was armed, did not comply with troopers’ commands, and approached to within a few feet of the troopers with his shotgun and revolver.”

Sykes could not be reached Friday. He said after the shooting that he still supported police “100 percent,” but that “incidents like this really shouldn’t happen.” mboren@phillynews.com

856-779-3829 @borenmc

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