Investigation judges Old Bridge officer used justified force in fatal shooting

OLD BRIDGE — A detailed investigation has revealed that an Old Bridge police officer was justified in shooting a man armed with a weapon earlier this year.

On Jan. 14 at 5:59 a.m., the Old Bridge Police Department received a 911 call from an individual at 40 Cedar Grove Place requesting an ambulance for a resident, later identified as Talbot Schroeder, 75, who had reportedly attempted suicide by cutting his wrists.

During the call, dispatchers could hear yelling and screaming in the background, references to a knife, and an additional report that the subject had just stabbed himself in the stomach, according to results of an investigation conducted by the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office, which were released on Dec. 21.

Dispatch shared this information with responding officers, specifically advising them that the subject was in possession of a knife and actively injuring himself, officials said.

Two Old Bridge police officers arrived at the residence at the same time, with Officer 1 entering the residence while Officer 2 retrieved a first aid kit, according to officials.

Officer 1 was directed to a downstairs room where he encountered Schroeder, who was reportedly seated on the floor several feet away with a knife in his right hand. Officer 1 ordered Schroeder to drop the knife, to which he replied “No” and reportedly made a motion as if to throw the knife in Officer 1’s direction, officials said.

Officer 1 purportedly retreated to the stairwell for cover while the subject stood and began walking toward the officer, brandishing the knife at head level. Officer 1 allegedly gave repeated orders to drop the knife. Having no avenue of retreat at this point, Officer 1 fired his duty weapon one time, striking Schroeder in the chest. Schroeder was pronounced dead at the scene at 6:27 a.m.

Officer 2 entered the residence and reportedly heard Officer 1’s vocal commands to drop the knife. From his vantage point in the foyer, he could not see Schroeder, officials said. Before Officer 2 could advance further, Officer 1 had fired the shot, the investigation revealed. Officer 2 notified police headquarters of the shot fired and requested first aid.

The investigation further determined that prior to the original 911 call, Schroeder had drawn a knife and had attempted to strike his wife, which resulted in lacerations to her hand and face. She was able to flee upstairs and awaken her son who then, upon going downstairs, discovered his father on the floor, actively bleeding from lacerations to both his wrists. Schroeder allegedly refused to relinquish the knife to his son and reportedly pointed it in his direction when he tried to take it from him. It was during this exchange that 911 was called, officials said.

Officer 1’s training records were reviewed and it was determined that he had received and successfully completed all annual mandatory firearms and Use of Force training prior to this incident, according to the Prosecutor’s Office.

The investigation determined that the level of force utilized was justifiable, specifically by Schroeder repeatedly ignoring commands to drop his weapon, a knife of sufficient size to cause serious bodily injury or death; advancing upon Officer 1 with the weapon brandished in such a way as to infer intent to harm; and having already exhibited a willingness and propensity for utilizing that knife in the commission of his own self-injury, resulted in Officer 1, with no option for retreat, although not required under the law, having a reasonable belief that in the absence of such level of force, he was in jeopardy of incurring serious bodily injury or death, according to the press release.