SALEM COUNTY, New Jersey -- Three Bridgeton men have been charged in the shooting of a New Jersey State Police trooper who was confronted by armed men Saturday while investigating a home invasion in a Salem County trailer park, authorities said Tuesday.
They are among eight Cumberland County residents charged in the two incidents, and additional charges are likely, Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal said in an online news conference.
”We have zero tolerance for those who violently attack our law enforcement officers,” Grewal said. “Anyone who threatens the safety of our officers, threatens the safety of all of us.”
The shooting happened about 10:40 p.m. Saturday while Detective Richard Hershey was investigating an alleged home invasion that had taken place at a mobile home park in Pittsgrove Township, authorities said.
Hershey was listed in stable condition Tuesday at Cooper University Hospital in Camden after undergoing surgery.
“He’s got a little bit of a road ahead of him,” said State Police Superintendent Patrick J. Callahan. “We do expect a full recovery.”
Callahan said law enforcement officials, who typically would gather at a hospital when an officer has been wounded, assembled nearby at the Camden County Metro Police department. Grewal said he spoke with Hershey and praised him for his courage. Hershey responded “that he was out there doing his job,” he said.
In the news conference, authorities offered details on how investigators pieced together the incidents in about 72 hours. They said Hershey was investigating the alleged break-in when a caravan approached and several men got out of a vehicle and confronted him. Hershey, who was in plainclothes with an unmarked police vehicle, identified himself as a law enforcement officer and told the men to return to the vehicle, Grewal said.
According to Grewal, one of the men, Najzeir “Naz” Hutchings, 21, of Bridgeton, opened fire, striking Hershey in the upper leg. Hershey returned fire and the trio fled, he said. Hutchings was charged with attempted murder, aggravated assault on a police officer, and weapons offenses.
Also charged with weapons offenses were Kareen “Kai” Warner Jr., 19, and Colby Opperman, 18, both of Bridgeton.
Grewal said a woman in the caravan who was shot in her leg was treated at Cooper and released. It was unclear who shot her, and a Grewal spokesperson declined further comment. Her name was not released.
More than four hours before the shooting, five women, including a mother and daughter, had forced entry into a home in the Harding Woods mobile home park on Route 40 in Pittsgrove Township, authorities said. Once inside, they allegedly assaulted a woman and stole her iPhone. A passerby saw the incident and called police.
The victim was treated at Inspira Medical Center Elmer for a broken rib and a lacerated lung. Authorities said she was familiar with at least two of her assailants and was able to identify them.
Authorities said investigators were looking into a possible motive and the identities of the others in the caravan that showed up later at the mobile park. One of the women charged in the home invasion, Iramari Lazu, 22, of Bridgeton, allegedly was in the caravan.
Also charged with aggravated assault, robbery, and burglary in the home invasion were: Jazmin Valentin, 32; Iramari’s mother, Yomari Lazu, 43; and Mayra Roblero, 52, all of Bridgeton; and Maria Betancourt, 39, of Vineland.
Authorities declined comment on a possible relationship between the five women and the three suspects charged in the shooting. The suspects were being held in the Salem County Jail pending detention hearings.
Pittsgrove, a sprawling community of about 9,300 residents, is among more than a half-dozen Salem County municipalities patrolled by the state police, said county Prosecutor John T. Lenahan. Hershey is assigned to the Bridgeton barracks.
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