The death of a Philadelphia man who was fatally shot when he tried to escape from a group of undercover Philly cops in his car was not a crime, the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office announced.
Jeffrey Dennis was shot on Aug. 20 in Tacony near Hegerman Street and Princeton Avenue by Officer Richard Nicoletti, one of six undercover officers who surrounded Dennis’ vehicle during what appeared to be an attempted arrest.
Surveilance video of the incident, which was released by the AG’s office, shows Dennis trying to escape in his vehicle from the officers, striking three officers and one of their cars, before Nicoletti, standing near the car’s driver-side window, fired three times, killing Dennis. They were in the area for a search warrant on Dennis’ nearby home on suspected drug crimes when they saw Dennis driving nearby and decided to accost him, according to police accounts.
“My office conducted a thorough four-month review of this case, interviewing witnesses, examining video footage, and analyzing all available evidence. We applied the facts to Pennsylvania law, and accordingly, no criminal charges against Richard Nicoletti will be filed by my office,” Pennsylvania AG Josh Shapiro said in announcing the decision. (Because Dennis was a past client of DA Larry Krasner when he was a defense attorney days, Krasner’s office made a “conflict referral” of this investigation to the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office.)
“Violations of police procedure do not always rise to the level of criminal charges,” Shapiro said. “Whether Philadelphia Police Department procedure was followed during this incident was not in the scope of our investigation, and will be addressed by Commissioner Ross and the Department.”
Dennis, 36, a father of three who was recently engaged to be married, has been mourned by his family since the shooting, who have questioned the police rationale for the shooting and called it a murder.
“Police lied,” said Lee Merritt, an attorney representing the Dennis family, in a statement. “They claimed he struck a police officer with his vehicle and then they opened fire. The truth is now available. We must demand DA Larry Krasner (Philadelphia) take this case to a grand jury.” (Krasner’s office declined to comment after the AG’s office announced its decision.)
In Merritt’s narrative of the case, posted online, he claimed that the undercover officers’ vehicle “displayed no specific markings, sirens, or distinctive lighting. Nor did its occupants display any badges, uniforms or clothing identifying themselves as law enforcement.” Merritt said that Dennis was “in a panic” and was attempting “to maneuver away from the unknown men” when his car made contact with a police vehicle, before Nicoletti shot him. The video has no audio and its unclear if they verbally identified themselves as law enforcement.
Police originally said Dennis rammed one of the officers with his vehicle before being shot. While video shows his car bumping into several of the officers, he does not appear to be traveling at high speed, and the car is immobile at the time he is shot.
The case is believed to be now under internal review by the Philadelphia Police Department. Commissioner Richard Ross previously told NBC10 of the incident, “It was a volatile situation and quite candidly we have some concerns about the shooting, too, some of the tactics that were used. … We’re looking at it all very, very closely.”
Philadelphia police use of force guidelines state that “police officers shall not discharge their firearms at a vehicle unless a person in the vehicle is immediately threatening the officer or another person with deadly force by means other than the vehicle (e.g., officers or civilians are being fired upon by the occupants of the vehicle). … A moving vehicle alone shall not presumptively constitute a threat that justifies an officer’s use of deadly force.”