Ocean County Authorities Say Police Involved Shooting Justified

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JACKSON – A Jackson Township Police Officer’s use of non-lethal force was used appropriately to protect his life and that of his partner during a Dec. 27, 2017 incident, a report released today said.

Prosecutor Bradley Billhimer released the findings Friday, that Sgt. Wayne Olejarz used appropriate and legal force when stopping at attempted knife attack during a call at a Laurel Avenue home.

He and Officer Anthony Riso, both uniformed, answered a call to that home on Dec. 27, 2017. The family called about Travis Van Pelt, who was intoxicated and had attacked his father and brother. Police knew Van Pelt was brandishing a knife.

Olejarz forced his way into the home through a rear door and, seeing Van Pelt with the knife, ordered him to drop it. The report said Van Pelt ignored the command and continued toward the sergeant, who then shot Van Pelt, who fell backward. Both officers confirmed that Van Pelt had a serrated knife on him.

Van Pelt was taken 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 he forced the officer to shoot him,” the report said. “Van Pelt added that he lunged at the officer with the knife on purpose in an attempt to commit suicide.”

Van Pelt was charged with attempted murder, possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, aggravated assault, and two counts of simple assault. He pled guilty to aggravated assault by attempting to cause bodily injury with a deadly weapon on May 29, and was sentenced to five years’ probation on July 20, after being credited 158 days in Ocean County Jail. He was released directly to Ancora Psychiatric Hospital for evaluation and treatment.

Both then-prosecutor Joseph Coronato and the Office of the Attorney General concluded that 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.”

“It came to the attention of the Prosecutor Billhimer that this Public Statement was approved by the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office but may not have been released by the prior administration.  In compliance with the Attorney General Directive, Prosecutor Billhimer is releasing it at this time,” an Oct. 26 email from OCPO said.