The Bronx District Attorney has decided not to seek criminal charges against a Westchester cop who chased a suspect into the Bronx and fatally shot him during a violent struggle–a move sharply criticized by a lawyer for the victim’s family.
On the evening of Oct. 12, 2010, Pelham Manor Officer Kenneth Stretz chased suspect Wardell Johnson Jr. to a yard on Edson Avenue in the Bronx, and there, struggled with him. Stretz was being choked by Johnson before spraying pepper spray into his fellow combatant’s face. Johnson renewed his attack on Stretz. The officer drew his Glock and shot Johnson once in the chest from a inch away.
Johnson kept fighting despite the chest wound. Stretz’s gun jammed momentarily before he was able to fire a second shot, which missed. Johnson finally collapsed and died shortly after that.
Stretz first got involved in the chase after 911 calls claimed a man was weaving in and out of traffic on an ATV at 80 miles-an-hour near Boston Post Road. Stretz pulled up behind Johnson and tried to get him to pull over. Johnson ignored him. As Johnson made a turn onto Baychester Avenue, the ATV flipped over. Johnson took off on foot with Stretz in pursuit. The confrontation ended on Edson Avenue.
Johnson, who lived in the Bronx, had a long criminal rap sheet, but his family’s lawyer, Alberto Ebanks, has claimed that Officer Stretz used excessive force.
“This was a police officer who acted as judge, jury and executioner,” Ebanks tells the Voice. “You are not supposed to shoot people who are fleeing.”
Ebanks says that once Johnson fled into the enclosed yard, Stretz should have blocked the exit and called for backup. He should not have engaged in a struggle with the fugitive.
“We are hoping that the U.S. Attorney’s office will take a close look at this case,” Ebanks says. “The devil is in the details. Nowhere in this officer’s patrol guide does it say a single officer is supposed to pursue and confront a suspect. It’s indefensible.”