Testifying former cop describes being shot at during standoff
JERSEY CITY — Testimony in the trial of a West New York veteran charged with trying to kill two police officers continued this afternoon with responding officers on the stand, including a former North Bergen cop who described being shot at and returning fire.
Emmanuel Hernandez, 28, a Navy veteran who both the defense and state psychiatrists agree suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, is accused of attempting to murder two officers just after 2 a.m. on Jan. 5, 2017 in his backyard on 57th Street.
Hernandez’s attorney, Peter Willis, contended in his opening statement this morning that his client is not responsible for his actions because of mental issues he suffered by being traumatized while serving in the Persian Gulf.
The first person to take the stand today was North Bergen Police Officer Robert Garcia who responded to Quick Chek on Kennedy Boulevard after a 911 call was placed regarding a man in a red Infiniti who appeared agitated. Hudson County Assistant Prosecutor Kevin Roe said Hernandez was arguing with some teens at the location.
Garcia testified that he approached Hernandez with his gun drawn and holstered it when he saw that Hernandez was not holding a weapon. He said he scuffled with Hernandez who managed to drive away, running over the officer’s foot as he fled.
Former North Bergen Police Officer Zavier Romo testified that as he arrived at the Quick Chek he saw the Infiniti exit the parking lot, strike a police vehicle and another vehicle that was passing by. A cruiser driven by Lt. Gorge Raposo was in pursuit and Romo said he joined the chase as the Infiniti sped through red lights on Kennedy Boulevard.
“The minute I make a right onto 57th Street I see the vehicle make a complete stop — 57th and Jefferson,” Romo said. “I saw a male run out of red car and run into an alleyway … I was the first one to enter that alleyway.”
Romo said he and Raposo yelled “North Bergen police. Come out with your hands up at.” as they went down the alley with flashlights out and guns drawn. He said he stopped at the end of the alley and flashed his light around the yard.
“As I stepped into the backyard I saw a shed right in front of me and I think he must be hiding behind this,” Romo said, adding that he then saw a muzzle flash to his left. “Someone was shooting at me.” He said he dropped his flashlight so he would be harder to spot.
“I turned to my left and saw another muzzle flash followed by a large bang,” Romo said. “It seemed like the man had moved after the first shot… I was able to see someone standing there and pointing an object at me. I immediately returned fire.” He said he “I thought I was going to die.”
Romo said the man entered what appeared to be the building’s basement door. Rapso told Romo to back away and he backed halfway down the alley before turning and running to the street. Romo asked someone to check if he had been hit. He said he wasn’t sure because so much adrenaline was pumping through his veins.
Romo said two more shots rang out from the alley and appeared to strike buildings. Hernandez surrendered after a 12-hour standoff. He is charged with aggravated assault on police officers, resisting arrest, eluding police, weapons offenses, two counts of attempted murder and was issued multiple summonses.
Romo said the gunman was about 15 feet away when he fired at him. Willis told The Jersey Journal in an interview prior to the trial that his client had fired into the air and was having a flashback at the time.
“Do you know he’s a sharpshooter?” Willis asked Romo.
“No, I did not,” Romo replied.
“You don’t know anything about this person,” Willis said.
“At that point, no sir,” Romo replied.
“You don’t know if he was proficient with a weapon,” Willis continued.
“No, I don’t,” Romo answered.
“You are proficient with a weapon,” Willis said.
“Yes,” replied Romo.
“If I’m standing 15 feet in front of you and you shoot at me, you are going to hit me aren’t you?” Willis asked.
“Yes, I am,” Romo said.
The trial will resume tomorrow at 9 a.m. before Hudson County Superior Court Judge Mark Nelson in the Hudson County Administration Building in Jersey City.