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N.J. Troopers Lose Jobs but Avoid Jail in Shooting

January 15, 2002|From Associated Pres

TRENTON, N.J. — Two white state troopers avoided jail Monday by pleading guilty to lesser charges in a turnpike shooting that forced New Jersey and the nation to confront the issue of ethnic profiling.

The men said they had been trained and encouraged by their superiors to target minorities.

James Kenna and John Hogan fired 11 shots at a van they had pulled over for speeding on the New Jersey Turnpike in 1998. The two have said they thought the driver was trying to run them over and they feared for their lives. Three of the four young men--three blacks and one Latino--in the van were wounded.

Under a plea bargain, Kenna and Hogan pleaded guilty to official misconduct and providing false information. Kenna had been charged with attempted murder, and both had been charged with aggravated assault.

Kenna and Hogan were fined $155 each for official misconduct and $125 each for giving false information, and were barred from holding jobs as police officers in New Jersey. The plea agreement also avoids federal civil rights charges.

As he left the courthouse, Kenna said he had a message for the four young men, who did not attend the hearing. "I've been thinking about you ever since this occurred," he said softly, speaking to TV cameras. "I'm sorry."

The turnpike shooting stirred accusations that New Jersey state police targeted minority motorists for searches along the busy highway.

A year after the shooting, former state Atty. Gen. Peter G. Verniero admitted that troopers practiced profiling.

Under an agreement to prevent a lawsuit by the U.S. Justice Department, the state ordered reforms, including steps to monitor the ethnicity of motorists stopped by troopers. The state also agreed to pay $12.95 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the four men who were targeted.

Minority activists criticized the plea bargain.

"What we have just witnessed today was not justice," said the Rev. Reginald Jackson, executive director of the Black Ministers Council of New Jersey. "What we have just witnessed was political expedience."

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