A state grand jury has declined to charge three Bayonne police officers for a traffic stop where a man lit himself on fire and died about two weeks later.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
The fatal police encounter was investigated by the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA) and presented to New Jersey residents called to serve on the grand jury in accordance with Directive 2019-4, the “Independent Prosecutor Directive,” issued in 2019.
The investigation of this fatal police encounter included interviews of witnesses, collection of forensic evidence, review of video footage, and autopsy results from the medical examiner.
After hearing testimony and evidence from the investigation, the grand jury concluded its deliberations on Monday, October 3rd and voted “no bill” meaning they concluded that no charges should be filed against any officer because no one involved caused the death of Parbu Bikhari, 51, of Newton.
According to the investigation, at approximately 10:55 pm on July 13th, 2021, three Bayonne police officers – Dets. Justin Kazan, Juan Villegas, and Alan Elawady – on patrol observed Bikhari commit several motor vehicle infractions.
The officers attempted to conduct a motor vehicle stop, but Bikhari did not comply. Instead, he traveled down 52nd Street, a dead-end street, where the officers blocked his path of travel.
Officers then exited their vehicles and commanded Bikhari to exit the vehicle. Through the windshield of the vehicle, officers observed him brandish a knife. He then appeared to squirt a liquid accelerant in the interior of the vehicle.
Moments later, the interior of the vehicle became engulfed in flames and smoke. Officers attempted to extinguish the flames and called for assistance from the Bayonne Fire Department, who extinguished the fire.
Bikhari sustained serious burn-related injuries and was transported to the hospital for treatment, where he died of his injuries on July 25th, 2021.
An autopsy was conducted and the Medical Examiner determined that the cause of death was complications of thermal burns and smoke inhalation.
Additionally, at the time of the motor vehicle stop, a warrant had been issued for Bikhari’s arrest in connection with a domestic violence-related assault.
“I would like to thank the Attorney General’s Office for the comprehensive investigation into this incident and the grand jury who voted ‘no bill,'” Police Chief Robert Geisler said on Thursday.
“The events that unfolded before those police officers on July, 13, 2021 demonstrated just how dangerous and unpredictable police work is on a daily basis. This incident was a tragedy for all involved.”
A conflicts check was conducted pursuant to the Independent Prosecutor Directive and no actual or potential conflict of interest was found involving any individual assigned to the investigation.
Prior to presentation to the grand jury, the investigation was reviewed by OPIA Executive Director Thomas Eicher in accordance with the policies and procedures established for these presentations in the SOPs.
At the conclusion of these investigations, pursuant to the Independent Prosecutor Directive and SOPs, OPIA determines whether any principal should be referred to the appropriate law enforcement agency for administrative review in accordance with the AG’s Internal Affairs Policy & Procedures.
OPIA monitors any resulting review and takes such actions as are necessary to ensure that the review is completed in a timely fashion, and that appropriate actions are taken based on the results of the review.
The AG’s Office announced they were investigating the incident at the end of July.
Editor’s note: This story was updated on Thursday morning with a comment from Bayonne Police Chief Robert Geisler.