Englewood officer under state probe for deadly shooting is in line for detective's badge
The Englewood officer who fatally shot 22-year-old resident Bernard Placide, while officers struggled to subdue him after what authorities have called a "domestic violence disturbance," had been tapped for a detective's badge, even as the state Attorney General's Office continues to investigate her actions, city officials confirmed.
But in light of multiple concerns — including backlash from residents and advocacy groups who say the police could have de-escalated the incident without lethal force — the move has been put on hold until a grand jury delivers its findings, according to the city manager and police chief.
Everyone is entitled to due process: the family, the officer, everybody," City Manager Bob Hoffman said Saturday.
Months after Officer Luana Sharpe delivered the single gunshot that ended Placide's life, a department order was issued to reassign her to the detective bureau, said Police Chief Tom Greeley.
However, Hoffman clarified that those orders are issued before the end of each year to alert officers whose duties will change and are not binding officiations, adding that Sharpe was never presented with a detective's shield.
Hoffman and Greeley also noted that the move, if granted, would be a reassignment but not a promotion in rank. Greeley said the new role would come with a stipend but did not comment on how much it would add to Sharpe's current salary.
Since the shooting, Sharpe has been on leave — standard for any officer involved in a fatal encounter — but she is set to return, serving light duty in the records room until the state's review is concluded. The offer to join the detective's bureau has not been rescinded but will depend on the outcome of a grand jury, city officials said.
City Council protest
Word of Sharpe’s possible promotion brought a crowd of over 55 people to protest at the city’s reorganization meeting on Tuesday evening. A little over 20 people spoke in a public comment session that lasted about two hours, decrying the decision to consider Sharpe for any new position.
“For those who want to think that we are going to go away, there are new revolutionaries that are waking up every day, and we’re going to fight different than the old revolutionaries,” said Rick Whilby, an Englewood resident.
Before public comment, the mayor and members of the council expressed condolences to Placide’s family, with Councilman at Large Charles Cobb urging those in the crowd to share their experiences.
“My condolences, and I hope every one of you that holds a sign up there comes to this mic and speaks,” Cobb said.
Many of the speakers held signs saying “Justice for Bernard Placide Jr.” along with the name People’s Organization for Progress.
The crowd chanted throughout the meeting, including call-and-response such as “Say his name: Bernard Placide” and “No justice, no peace,” while also speaking passionately to the mayor and council. Many were enraged, yelling at the elected officials, and some called the officials “liars” when they said Sharpe is not getting a promotion.
Among the speakers was Placide’s mother, Myrlene Laurince, who emotionally said Sharpe was in the wrong and has to pay for her actions, and should not be considered for promotion.
“She killed my son after they tased him several times,” Laurince said. “What did she have to do? Wait. She didn’t wait. She went and killed him for nothing."
Scott Jenkins, a former Englewood police captain who is vice president of the North Jersey Black Caucus for Social Justice, said he was ashamed to be associated with the current Police Department.
“The city manager was called and the mayor was called, and they said it’s not a promotion,” Jenkins said. “’Don’t get upset, it’s just an assignment.’ What’s the difference?”
Whether or not the city recognizes the move as a promotion, Attorney Eric Kleiner, who represents Placide's estate, said last week that offering Sharpe the new detail would send a message that shooting Black residents, like his client, is shrugged off by department brass.
"If you pay that person an extra dollar, it’s a promotion," Kleiner said. "The family feels like they’re going through the [shooting] all over again."
Hoffman categorically denied that Sharpe's actions at Placide's home had any bearing on her potential for a detective's shield. Instead, he cited the retirement of a 10-year veteran of the department, who, like Sharpe, is bilingual, leaving an opening in the division for an officer with her skills.
“There needs to be a replacement,” Hoffman said recently, adding that if Sharpe is cleared of wrongdoing, the only remaining question is "where does she fit that best serves the needs of the city?”
Mayor Michael Wildes said last week that he understands the optics of moving Sharpe into another role and has reached out to advocates for the victim to ensure that everyone is heard.
As of Tuesday, a spokesperson for the attorney general had not confirmed whether it was a violation of any laws, directives or guidelines to reassign Sharpe with higher pay while she remains under scrutiny.
'Drop the knife'
Before officers arrived at Placide's home on the morning of Sept. 3, Placide struggled with his family in an alleged attack that left three victims suffering from non-fatal stab wounds, authorities said, although the Attorney General's Office has yet to refer to him as a "suspect."
Police responded when his mother phoned 911, telling the dispatcher, "[deleted] is trying to kill me," later adding, "I don’t know what happened to him. He’s been acting crazy lately," according to audio and video footage released by the attorney general a month later.
When officers made their way upstairs to the apartment, they spoke briefly with Placide's stepfather, Obed Hilaire, seen in body-worn camera footage sitting on the side of a bathtub suffering from what authorities have called a stab wound. Police then continued down the apartment's narrow hall and encountered Placide, alone in a bedroom holding an indistinct green object.
After Sharpe and Officer Brian Havlicek ordered Placide to put his hands up, he tried to shut the bedroom door before the police forced their way in, telling him multiple times to "drop the knife." The footage shows that Havlicek fired his taser at Placide, who fell to the floor and convulsed against a dresser.
After wrestling with Placide in an attempt to make him drop the green object in his hand, footage shows, Sharpe discharged one bullet into his side at what appears to be nearly point-blank range while he continued to gesticulate under force of the taser.
First aid was rendered at the scene until emergency medical workers transported him to Englewood Health medical center, where he was pronounced dead at about 9:17 a.m., according to prior statements by authorities.
Laurince has said the alleged attack was over by the time police arrived and that she requested the emergency response to help her son through a psychological episode. De-escalation, not lethal force, was the intention, she and others said.
Placide was never diagnosed with a psychological disorder, Laurince has previously said, but she believes that day he had "a breakdown."
One group that has joined the demand to discipline Sharpe is the National Action Network, an advocacy group founded by the Rev. Al Sharpton.
"I think she should be charged and should not be on the police force," said Pastor Steffie Bartley, a member of NAN. "He needed psychological help. He wasn’t harming anyone, he was in the room alone ... That should not have went that way."
A central point of contention remains exactly what Placide was holding at the time he was shot. Laurince and Hilaire contend it was only the hilt of a small kitchen knife and that the blade had broken off during the family's struggle in their bathroom, where it remained.
The attorney general has said Sharpe suffered an injury to her hand during the scuffle and a blood smear can be seen on the bedroom door as she leaves the room immediately after firing the shot.
Efforts to reach Sharpe through the Englewood Police Department and Englewood PBA Local 216 were not immediately successful.
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Englewood cop under shooting probe is in line for detective badge