Old Bridge police officer cleared in shooting death

A state grand jury took no action regarding the death of Andrew Murnieks, 28, of South Brunswick, who was fatally shot by a member of the Middlesex County Emergency Response Team during an armed standoff in November 2013.

The shooting was investigated by the state Attorney General’s Shooting Response Team, made up of investigators from the Division of Criminal Justice and the New Jersey State Police Major Crime Unit.

The state grand jury concluded its deliberations on June 16. It declined to indict the officer after hearing extensive testimony and evidence from the team’s investigation, according to a statement prepared by the Attorney General’s Office.

Murnieks was shot inside his house on Hannah Drive around 10:30 p.m. Nov. 20, 2013. The incident began four hours earlier when South Brunswick police officers were dispatched to the house on a report of an emotionally disturbed person. Upon arrival, Murnieks’ mother told the officers that her son was schizophrenic and was off his medications, authorities said.

Township police had reportedly responded to prior incidents at the house in which Murnieks behaved violently, officials said.

The investigation revealed that when the officers attempted to speak to Murnieks at the front door, he walked away at first, but then turned and charged at them with a large blade held over his head, authorities said. The officers retreated and alerted the Middlesex County Special Operations Response Team.

Murnieks shut the door, but could be seen running through the house and waving the blade. He reportedly opened the front door and a rear sliding door several times to yell and wave the weapon. Murnieks yelled repeatedly that he was going to kill the officers, officials said.

The Middlesex County Special Operations Response Team arrived and took command. They were advised that Murnieks had access to a machete, a knife and a hammer. A crisis negotiator reportedly made repeated efforts over the next several hours to resolve the situation. When those negotiations broke down and Murnieks appeared to be barricading the doorway, the SWAT team forced entry into the house, according to the release.

The investigation revealed that Murnieks attacked the first officer who entered the house, striking him multiple times in the head and face with a heavy metal wrench. He also attempted to grab the officer’s handgun, according to the release.

The officer, a member of the Old Bridge Police Department, fired one round from his service weapon that struck Murnieks in the chest, fatally wounding him. Murnieks was treated at the scene by paramedics and was transported to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, where he was pronounced dead at 11:35 p.m. The officer was taken to the hospital for treatment of injuries to his jaw and head.

An officer may use deadly force in New Jersey when he or she reasonably believes it is immediately necessary to protect the officer or another person from imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm, the release stated.