Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley D. Billhimer announced that the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office (OCPO) has completed its investigation into the August 1, 2021 use of force by an officer of the Berkeley Township Police Department and has concluded that the use of force was legally justified. Prosecutor Billhimer determined that it is not necessary to present this matter to the Grand Jury because there were not material facts in dispute regarding the lawfulness of the use of force.
The investigation was conducted in accordance with the then applicable Attorney General’s Independent Prosecutor Directives (Attorney General Supplemental law Enforcement Directive Regarding Uniform Statewide Procedures and Best Practices for Conducting Police Use of Force Investigations Directive 2006-5 and the Independent Prosecutor Directive 2019-4) (Directive). Pursuant to those Directive, the Attorney General’s Office conducted an independent review of the use of force and agreed with Prosecutor Billhimer’s determination that there were no material facts in dispute and that the use of force by the officer was justified. The Attorney General’s Office concurred with Prosecutor Billhimer’s conclusion to forego presentation of this matter to the Grand Jury.
The incident occurred on August 1, 2021 at 10:39am in Berkeley Township. Officers responded to a call for service at a residence on Stanford Drive following a 9-1-1 call. Officer 1 arrived at 10:44 a.m., Officer 2 arrived at 10:45 a.m., and Officer 3 arrived at 10:52 a.m. Dispatch warned responding officers that the subject, Stephen M. Carroccia, hereafter, “Carroccia”, had “pulled a knife out of a pile of laundry in the past.” All officers on scene were wearing a standard police uniform and equipped with body worn cameras.
Officers 1 & 2 arrived at the residence and approached a woman identified as Carroccia’s relative, hereafter referred to as “relative”, sitting in a chair on the left side of the front porch. Officer 1 spoke to the woman and learned she was the 9-1-1 caller. She advised that she lived at the residence with Carroccia, and that he was acting erratic and was observed by neighbors wandering in between yards. Moments later, Carroccia exited the front door of the residence and was noticeably agitated. He immediately questioned why the police were there and demanded to know who called 9-1-1 before reentering the residence. The relative expressed to officers that Carroccia had physically assaulted her in the past and was worried that the situation was going to escalate.
All three officers on scene attempted to de-escalate the situation with Carroccia with negative results. At one point, Carroccia appeared visibly agitated after learning officers were not leaving. He approached Officer 3, flinched at him as if he was going to attack, and subsequently yelled in his face.
Officers 1 & 3 were on the porch speaking to the relative as Carroccia stood partly inside with the storm door open, continuously questioning when the officers were going to leave. At this point, Officer 1 was positioned on the small railed porch between the relative and the front door where Carroccia was standing. Officer 3 was positioned on the pathway between the front entrance and the driveway towards the left side of the porch.
Both Officer 1 & 3 again attempted to de-escalate the situation with Carroccia, however, he remained visibly agitated. Seconds later, Carroccia quickly flung open the door, stepped onto the porch and, without provocation, lunged at Officer 1 with a 16” stainless steel kitchen knife. Carroccia, holding the knife in his right hand, aimed it at the officer’s neck and head. Officer 1 was able to push Carroccia back a few feet toward the door and ordered him to drop the knife. Ignoring the officers’ commands, Carroccia lunged a second time at Officer 1 using a downward stabbing motion with the 16” knife. Fearing for the life of Officer 1, Officer 3 drew his duty weapon and fired a total of three rounds, making contact with Carroccia all three times in his upper body. Officer 1 simultaneously discharged his taser. Once on the ground, Carroccia was again ordered to drop the knife.
Upon securing Carroccia, all officers on scene immediately rendered first aid. The Berkeley Township First Aid Squad was subsequently dispatched and assumed treatment responsibilities before taking Carroccia to the hospital.
The scene was secured by Berkeley Township Police Department and the three officers were transported to the hospital for an evaluation per departmental policy. Officer 1 was not physically injured despite Carroccia’s attempts. The relative was also physically unharmed and remained seated in her chair during the incident.
The 16” stainless steel knife that Carroccia used in his attempt to stab Officer 1 was found in the front landscape bed. Three firearm cartridge casings were observed on the front lawn, consistent with the three shots fired by Officer 3. Ballistics reports confirm that the casings found at the scene were fired from Officer 3’s duty weapon.
Carroccia provided a statement to OCPO Detectives several days later at the hospital. He explained that he grabbed the knife from the kitchen because he was frustrated to learn that he may be arrested. He admitted to possessing the knife and to lunging at Officer 1.
Three neighbors, who were all familiar with Carroccia, observed the incident and were subsequently interviewed by OCPO detectives. All three neighbors noted that the officers were in uniform and that they clearly observed Carroccia holding a knife. Two neighbors stated that they heard the officers ordering Carroccia to drop the knife. The third neighbor described how Carroccia lunged at the officer on the porch. After Carroccia attacked Officer 1, all three neighbors noted that they heard three shots. Once Carroccia was on the ground, the three neighbors observed the officers rendering first aid.
An interview with Carroccia’s relative and 9-1-1 caller, confirmed that she called police because of Carroccia’s behavior. She indicated that he became angry when he learned officers were not leaving the residence. She explained he opened the storm door to talk with the officers and eventually lunged at the officer on the porch. She confirmed that the officers reacted in response to Carroccia attacking Officer 1. When asked about the weapon, she stated she recognized the knife as one that is typically kept in the kitchen drawer.
Carroccia was charged with, and subsequently indicated, for Attempted Murder, Possession of Weapon (knife) for an Unlawful Purpose, Unlawful Possession of a Weapon (knife), and Certain Persons Not to Have Weapons. Carroccia has been held in the Ocean County Jail since his arrest and the case is pending disposition.
The Office of the Attorney General and Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley D. Billhimer are satisfied that the undisputed facts establish that the Berkeley Township Patrolman used the appropriate force necessary to protect the life of his fellow officer and that he was legally justified in doing so.