Man in Paterson cop shooting case had two prior gun convictions

PATERSON — Khalif Cooper, the man shot in the back by Paterson Police Officer Jerry Moravek during a foot chase last year, had previously pleaded guilty to two separate gun crimes, according to court records.

The first case, in 2016, stemmed from a police traffic stop in which Cooper allegedly tried to run away, and the second case, in 2017, involved gunfire during a fight with a discount store employee.

Moravek faces criminal charges because of the shooting, while authorities said Cooper has been unable to walk because of the bullet wound in his lower back.

But Paterson Black Lives Matter leader Zellie Thomas said Cooper’s past should not be a factor in the 2022 cases involving Moravek.

“This is America,” Thomas said. “You’re still innocent until proven guilty.”

Moravek’s attorney, Patrick Caserta, however, questioned the transparency of the prosecution.

“This information was not made known to the public by the Office of the Attorney General,” Caserta said of Cooper’s criminal background. “Why?”

Gavel and scales of justice.

Gavel and scales of justice.

“As I have said, transparency and accountability are critical, and I truly hope that eventually the public will be given the full picture,” Caserta added. “Officer Moravek put his life on the line to make Paterson safer. He is a hero, not a criminal.”

Thomas disagreed.

“Just because he had convictions does not give the officer the right to be his jury, judge and executioner,” the activist said.

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What court records show

Court records show that Cooper was arrested in June 2016 after Paterson police say they found him carrying a defaced handgun during a traffic stop, an incident in which he also was accused of pushing an officer and trying to run away from police when the gun was spotted .

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In that case, Cooper later pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of a gun and was awaiting his prison sentencing when he was arrested again in August 2017, court records show.

In the second case, Cooper was accused of firing a gun during a fight with an employee at a 99-cent store in Paterson. Court records said the bullet Cooper fired almost hit the employee and ended up striking the business’s front door. For a second time, Cooper pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of a handgun, court records show.

In January 2018, a judge rendered Cooper’s jail sentences in both cases. He was given 171 days in the 2016 gun incident, and 154 days in the 99-cent-store case, court records said. But Cooper — who was 24 at that time — was given something called “an aggregate sentence,” meaning he was allowed to serve the penalties at the same time, court records said.

Cooper has not had any convictions since 2018, and the Attorney General’s Office did not charge him with any crimes in the 2022 incident in which he was shot by Moravek.

The attorney general’s case

New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin this month announced that Moravek had been charged with aggravated assault and official misconduct for shooting Cooper, who is now 29. Platkin said the cop should not have used deadly force by firing his gun at a fleeing suspect and that Moravek should have yelled at Cooper to stop running and get on the ground.

Platkin said Cooper was unarmed at the time Moravek fired his weapon. But the cop’s lawyer has said Moravek saw Cooper with a gun and that Cooper was turning to fire at him.

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Moravek’s body-camera video showed the officer turning toward gunshots when Cooper raced past him in the opposite direction. Moravek repeatedly yelled at Cooper to “drop the gun.”

While wounded on the ground, Cooper told Moravek he didn’t have a gun, the video showed. Shortly after that, Moravek found a handgun along the route on which he had been chasing Cooper.

The Attorney General’s Office has said the gun did not have DNA or fingerprint evidence connecting the weapon to Cooper.

Meanwhile, the state’s electronic use-of-force records for New Jersey police officers since 2020 showed that Moravek had not fired his gun in any other instance. Those records said Moravek twice used his hands or arms against suspects, on June 4, 2022, and May 2, 2022. In a third case, the record said Moravek used “other” force against a suspect in June 2021.

So far, none of those three use-of-force incidents involving Moravek has resulted in lawsuits accusing him of using excessive force, according to federal and state court records.

Joe Malinconico is editor of Paterson Press.


This article originally appeared on Paterson NJ man in police shooting case had two prior gun convictions

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