N.J. prosecutors clear Vineland officer in deadly shooting of black man

Rashaun Washington, 37, of Bridgeton, was carrying garden shears but claimed he had an explosive during the July 2018 confrontation.


Rashaun "Pac Man" Washington’s stepfather, Eddie Haile and his mother, Georgette Washington, of Camden, came to Vineland for a rally, five days after their son was shot and killed by police on July 14, 2018. (Emily Cohen for WHYY)

Prosecutors in New Jersey have cleared a Vineland police officer in the deadly shooting of a black man last summer. 

Rashaun Washington was carrying garden shears wrapped in a shirt at the time but claimed he had an explosive.

A tense 30-minute standoff, which was captured on police body cameras, ended when Washington moved toward police and was shot three times by Vineland Sgt. Brian Armstrong.

Dozens of Washington’s family, friends and supporters took to the streets after the July 2018 incident shouting “Justice for Rashaun,” who was also known by his nickname “Pac Man.” His family could not immediately be reached for comment Friday.

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Two separate reviews by the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office and the state Attorney General’s Office concluded the use of force was legally justified to protect officers and bystanders. 

Prosecutors determined it wasn’t necessary to present the matter to a grand jury because “there were no material facts in dispute.”

The events that led to Washington’s death began with a routine police call. The 37-year-old Bridgeton man was sitting on a stranger’s porch and wouldn’t leave.

Footage of the showdown that ensued shows a Vineland officer pointing a rifle at Washington and imploring him to relax.

(Caution: The following video contains graphic images.)

Washington is shirtless and wearing shorts, holding an object covered in a white T-shirt. Police repeatedly ask him what it is and tell him to put it down. Washington refuses and says it could explode. 

“You’re going to have to blow my brains out,” Washington tells police several times. 

He mentions troubles with his girlfriend, who he said recently left him. 

“I don’t want to be here no more,” Washington he says at another point.

An officer and Washington briefly discuss his two teenage children. 

“You’re their father. They need their father,” the officer says. “For them. For them, man. You’re not even in trouble, man.” 

The whole time, Washington paces back and forth.

“Listen, no one has to die. No one has to die. We can talk about this. We can figure this out,” an officer tells Washington. 

After Washington was shot, police released a dog on him and doused him with pepper spray. He was taken to a hospital but died a short time later.

Family and friends said at the time that Washington had been battling addiction and mental illness. According to the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office, a toxicology report found Washington was under the influence of THC, a chemical in marijuana, and PCP at the time of his death.

Andaiye Al-Uqdah, a lawyer for the Washington family, said at the time, his standoff with police was a cry for help.

“And instead, he got shot and killed,” she said.

Al-Uqdah did not respond to a message seeking comment Friday.

Georgette Washington, Rashaun’s mother, spoke at a march shortly after her son’s death. 

“They didn’t have to shoot him,” she said at the time. “They could have tazed him. Or did anything. He never had no bomb. He didn’t have nothing. And in the broad daylight, they said, they’re gonna have to kill him, and that’s what they wanted to do.”

At least seven civilians have died in police-involved shootings this year, including one Thursday morning in Irvington.

Under state guidelines, police officers can use deadly force to protect themselves or the public.

The Associated Press contributed reporting.

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