In compliance with the New Jersey Attorney General’s Law Enforcement Directive 2006-5 (July 28, 2015) on the uniform statewide procedures and best practices for conducting police officer use-of-force investigations, this public statement is being issued regarding the March 14, 2017 Toms River Township police officer involved shooting of Christopher Apostolus. The Office of the Attorney General agrees with the findings of Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph D. Coronato that the undisputed facts of this case establish that the use of deadly force by the police officers was legally justified. The Attorney General also agrees that there are no material facts in dispute with regard to the officers’ use of force. As a result, presentation to a Grand Jury is not warranted.
The facts regarding the use of force are as follows: On March 10th, 2017, officers of the Toms River Police Department were dispatched to 190 Edgewood Drive to conduct a well-being check of Christopher Apostolus. They were unable to locate him at that time. Officers of the Toms River Police Department returned on March 11th, March 12th, and March 13th. Once again, they were unable to locate Apostolus on those dates. On March 14, 2017, at 12:30 pm, two fully uniformed Toms River police officers returned to 190 Edgewood Drive to conduct a well-being check of Christopher Apostolus. The Officers knocked several times, announcing their presence as police officers, but received no response. The officers had obtained a key from the apartment manager that they then used to gain entry into Apostolus’s apartment. The officers unlocked the apartment and again announced themselves as police officers. The officers then entered and searched the apartment. Upon failing to locate Apostolus, the officers exited the apartment. The officers were concerned that Apostolus was still inside as they located a warm pot of beans in the kitchen and a television that was left on. They also observed Apostolus’s vehicle parked in front of the apartment.
The officers reentered the apartment to conduct a further search for Apostolus. They checked the balcony on the rear of the apartment but determined that the door had been locked from the inside eliminating that as a possibility. The officers continued to search the apartment for an attic access or other possible hiding spots.
Officer Mark DeGrandis (Officer #1) entered the only bathroom in the apartment, walked to the far end and noticed that there was a closet door that was missed in the initial search. With the bathroom door open, as it had been during the initial search, the officer’s view of the closet door was obstructed. Officer #1 notified Officer Francis Bopp (Officer#2) of the closet location. Officer #1 then proceeded to place his left hand on the closet doorknob and attempted to open it. As Officer #1’s hand began to turn the knob, the door to the closet flew open. A man later identified as Apostolus, burst out of the closet screaming and grabbed Officer #1 by the neck with one hand while his other hand reached for Officer #1’s duty weapon. Officer #1 fired his gun three times during the struggle, striking Apostolus twice. Officer #1 explained that he was afraid that Apostolus was going to overpower him, take control of his gun and kill Officer #1, Officer #2 or both of them.
Officer #2 was in the hallway area next to the bathroom when Officer #1 notified him of the closet in the bathroom. He was still in the hallway area when he heard the scream from the closet. Immediately thereafter, the bathroom door slammed shut hitting his foot. Officer #2 then heard a gunshot but was unable to push the door open entirely as the bathroom door was wedged against the linen closet door. With an obstructed view through the partly open door, Officer #2 was only able to see Officer #1 backed up against the bathtub with Apostolus’s hand on his gun and another around his neck. Officer #2 saw Officer #1 fire another round that hit Apostolus’s hand between the thumb and pointer finger. At that time, Officer #2 was unable to safely fire his weapon as Officer #1and the subject were struggling in a tight area. After a moment, Officer #2 gained a clear shot and fired once striking Apostolus thereby ending the struggle. Officer #2 explained that he fired his duty weapon because he thought that Apostolus was going to gain control of Officer #1’s gun and kill Officer #1, Officer #2 or both of them.
Dr. Malamet from Newark Beth Israel Hospital pronounced Apostolus dead on scene at 1:06 PM. On March 16, 2017, the Ocean County Medical Examiner conducted a post mortem examination and determined the cause of death to be multiple gunshot wounds and the manner of death to be homicide.
An Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office Detective interviewed the property manager and assistant property manager for Silver Ridge Apartment Complex where Apostolus resided. The assistant property manager indicated that Apostolus had recently come to the office to inquire as to whether his brother could enter his apartment to retrieve his belongings in the event of his death. After the assistant property manager told him that his brother would not be permitted to enter his apartment, he returned shortly thereafter with a notarized letter. It indicated that in the event of his sudden death, his brother had permission to enter his apartment and retrieve his belongings. The property manager indicated that it seemed odd that he was leaving this letter and that she felt it was like a suicide note.
The Office of the Attorney General and Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato determined that the undisputed facts establish that the Toms River Township police officers used the appropriate force necessary to protect their lives and, furthermore, that the officers were legally justified in that use of force. This investigation was conducted consistent with the New Jersey Attorney General’s Law Enforcement Directive 2006-5 (July 28, 2015) regarding the uniform statewide procedures and best practices for conducting police officer use-of-force investigations.