TRENTON -- A New Jersey state trooper was justified in shooting out the tire of a woman who drove her car toward him during a stop on the Garden State Parkway last year, according to a state oversight body that reviews police shootings.
The attorney general's Shooting Response Team found the trooper acted appropriately during the ordeal, in which the woman acted erratically and appeared to be confused, according to a report on the incident released Friday.
Neither the trooper nor the 27-year-old driver were identified.
The woman was initially arrested on charges including eluding, resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer and hospitalized, but authorities are now in the process of dropping the charges, according to a spokesman for the Attorney General's Office.
The spokesman, Peter Aseltine, declined to say whether the woman had a psychological or medical condition.
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In New Jersey, a county prosecutor or the attorney general is required to open an investigation every time an officer fires their weapon. In this case, authorities decided not to convene a grand jury "because the undisputed material facts showed that the use of force was justifiable under the law," the report found.
According to the report, a tow truck driver noticed the woman's Toyota Corolla, which appeared to be disabled, near mile marker 39 in Atlantic County on June 25.
The truck driver alerted State Police as he circled back to assist the driver.
The unidentified trooper, driving an unmarked K9 unit SUV, responded and parked in front of the woman's vehicle with his emergency lights on. The tow truck driver parked behind her car, according to the report.
The trooper, clad in an olive green "jumpsuit-style" uniform, began to approach the vehicle as the tow truck driver began asking the woman if she needed help. The woman began driving toward the trooper, the report said.
The trooper drew his weapon and ordered the woman to stop. When she did, the report said, he approached the driver's side door and tried to pull the woman from the vehicle. The door was locked, and as he reached inside an open rear window, the car began moving backward, and then the woman drove the car forward, "bumping the trooper away from the moving car."
The trooper then fired three shots into the rear driver's side of the car.
The woman then began driving north along the highway's shoulder as the trooper ran back to his SUV to pursue her, the report said. The two vehicles drove a short distance before the woman stopped and the trooper was able to pull her out through the passenger-side door and place her under arrest.
"After she was handcuffed, she repeatedly said that she was lost, did not understand what was happening, and just needed directions," the report said.
The trooper called for backup and the woman was taken to the State Police Galloway station, where she appeared confused and "had trouble answering simple biographical questions."
Suspecting she might be intoxicated, police had her perform a breathalyzer test and later got a warrant for a blood test, but both indicated she was not under the influence of alcohol.
She later told investigators "did not realize the trooper was a law enforcement officer" and "admitted that she drove away from the trooper and heard gunshots after he first tried to pull her from the car," the report said.
Authorities later recovered bullet fragments from the woman's tire and interviewed the tow truck driver, who witnessed the shooting.
S.P. Sullivan may be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter. Find NJ.com on Facebook.
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