The Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office (OCPO) has completed its investigation into the November 21, 2019 use of force by one patrolman of the Tuckerton Police Department and has concluded that the use of force was legally justified. The OCPO 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) (“Directives”). Pursuant to those Directives, the Attorney General’s Office conducted an independent review of the use of force and agreed with OCPO’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 OCPO’s conclusion to forego presentation of this matter to the Grand Jury.0
The incident occurred on November 21, 2019, at 10:22am in the Borough of Tuckerton. Officer 1 of the Tuckerton Borough Police Department attempted to effectuate a motor vehicle stop of a Black Nissan Altima at Delta Gas Station located at 109 East Main Street. Officer 1 was in uniform and approached the Nissan and advised the driver and front seat passenger, Miguel Angel Villegas, that they were being stopped for obstruction of view and a seatbelt violation. Officer 1 could not identify a valid motor vehicle license under the name the driver provided and had asked her to exit the vehicle.
The driver exited the vehicle briefly before reentering the Nissan and accelerated out of the gas station heading north on North Green Street. The Nissan then collided with the left side of an unrelated northbound vehicle. The Nissan came to an uncontrolled rest in the front yard of a residence on the southbound side of the road. Officer 1 pursued the Nissan and stopped at the scene of the accident. As he approached the unrelated vehicle on the northbound side of the road to check on the occupant, he observed Villegas and the driver outside their vehicle next to the passenger side of the Nissan on the opposite side of the road. Officer 1 further observed that Villegas had his hands in his waist area and ordered him to show his hands multiple times. At that point in time, Villegas removed a dark colored handgun from under his clothing, pointed it at Officer 1 and began firing at him. Officer 1 discharged his weapon in response as he had no other option to protect his life. Neither Villegas, Officer 1, nor any bystanders were hit in the gunfire. Villegas fled south on foot towards East Main Street, where he broke into a garage, stole a bicycle and ultimately secured a Lyft ride to North Jersey. Officer 1 did not have a body worn camera and his vehicle was not equipped with a mobile video recorder (MVR). Surveillance video was recovered from the Delta Gas Station showing the suspect vehicle departing from the initial motor vehicle stop conducted by Officer 1. Additionally, detectives were able to recover video from the Wawa convenience store showing Villegas entering a Lyft car which enabled him to travel to North Jersey.
The driver/victim was interviewed and indicated that Villegas was her boyfriend and that he had ordered her to drive him to New Jersey from Connecticut because he was wanted by police there. The parties traveled to Tuckerton to get fuel on their trip back home from the Atlantic City area. Villegas had told her to provide a fake name to Officer 1 during the traffic stop, pointed a handgun at her and told her to drive while pushing her foot on the accelerator pedal. She recalled being in the accident and being between Villegas and Officer 1 when the gunfire started and that Villegas had the gun shortly before the gunfire started.
There were multiple witnesses who observed the incident. One witness observed the entire exchange between Officer 1 and Villegas. He confirmed that Officer 1 gave multiple verbal commands to Villegas to show him his hands to which Villegas did not comply. The citizen also observed Villegas pull out a gun and fire upon Officer 1 at which time Officer 1 returned fire. An additional witness stated she did not see the events leading up to the shooting, however, she did see a male matching the description of Villegas shooting in the direction of a police officer at the scene of the accident. A third witness observed the collision between the suspect vehicle and a third party vehicle. She observed Officer 1 order a male matching the description of Villegas to the ground with negative results. She also observed Villegas brandish a firearm and fire it toward the third party vehicle, which was in the direction of Officer 1. It was at that time she was pulled behind a vehicle by Officer 1 for protection and Officer 1 returned fire. A fourth witness observed a male matching the description of Villegas standing next to his vehicle shooting across the street in the direction of a police officer. All four of these witness accounts corroborate the timeline of events as described by Officer 1.
After a joint effort by local, county, state and federal partners, Villegas was located in New York City hours later.
Ballistic reports indicate that a total of twenty-three shots in total were fired off and accounted for during the shooting. Two of those shots were reportedly from a 9mm handgun, matching the description of the weapon in Villegas’ possession. Twenty-one shots were fired from a 40 caliber weapon, matching that of Officer 1.
Villegas was charged with Attempted Murder, Kidnapping, and Possession of Handgun for an Unlawful Purpose and Possession of Handgun without a Permit. He waived extradition to New Jersey. On February 4, 2020, Villegas was indicted on the Attempted Murder of Officer 1, Kidnapping, Unlawful Possession of a Firearm, and Possession of a Weapon for an Unlawful Purpose, Hindering Apprehension, and Aggravated Assault by Auto, Eluding, and Aggravated Assault of a Police Officer, Resisting Arrest, Burglary, and Certain Person Not to Possess a Firearm.
On August 13, 2021, Villegas pled guilty to first degree Attempted Murder and third degree Hindering Apprehension. At the time of sentencing, the State is seeking 15 years New Jersey State’s Prison on the Attempted Murder charge, subject to the No Early Release Act, concurrent to a 5 year flat term on the Hindering Apprehension charge. He is to be sentenced before the Honorable Guy P. Ryan, J.S.C. on September 27, 2021.
The Office of the Attorney General and Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley D. Billhimer are satisfied that the undisputed facts establish that Tuckerton Patrolman used the appropriate force necessary to protect his life and that of innocent bystanders and that he was legally justified in doing so.