NJ cop’s job was to talk to hostage-takers. When SWAT killed one, he couldn’t bear it
HAMMONTON — Police Det. Gerardo Martinez had spent 10 years training for this moment.
On April 24, 2010, a crazed gunman robbed an emergency medical technician in Deptford, led police on a high speed chase, and then holed himself up in a house in this Atlantic County town, taking his wife, mother and a tenant hostage.
A nearly 12-hour standoff ensued with Martinez, the department's hostage negotiator, on the phone with the suspect for nearly the entire time.
Martinez eventually succeeded in getting the man to release his hostages. And he figured it was only a matter of time before he could convince him to surrender.
But that never happened. The SWAT team — on orders from officials worried about the approaching dawn in a residential neighborhood on a school day — fired gas canisters into the home, burst inside and shot the suspect dead.
Martinez, blindsided by the turn of events, broke down in tears.
A colleague on the scene complimented him for a "hell of a job."
"Not good enough," he responded. He called his wife. "We just killed someone."
Martinez's law enforcement career essentially ended that morning. He returned to work sporadically after that incident and filed for retirement on July 14, 2011.
While the pension board granted him a regular disability retirement, Martinez had sought a more valuable accidental disability retirement.
To get that he would have to prove that his post-traumatic stress disorder directly resulted from a “qualifying terrifying or horror-inducing traumatic event that was undesigned and unexpected.”
Police and Firemen’s Retirement System's Board of Trustees denied him accidental disability, figuring that Martinez had trained for this job and that the death was not out of line with what should be expected.
But in a appellate ruling Wednesday, a state judge overturned the pension board's decision, clearing the way for Martinez to receive his full pension.
In an earlier administrative law hearing, police psychologist Scott W. Allen said Martinez had made an emotional connection with the suspect by sharing personal information and establishing trust.
The psychologist said that while he was not in the house, he heard the death transpire over the phone.
Because Martinez had no advance warning of the SWAT team’s plans, he was not able to prepare himself mentally for the death.
Martinez heard the suspect plead with him over the phone.
“Gerry, Gerry, what’s going on? They’re going to kill me. They’re going to kill me. You know, what are you doing?"
Officials said the suspect did not drop the gun and that a SWAT officer warned the suspect that he he would shoot him. The SWAT opened fire after the man attempted to shoot and a SWAT officers said he heard the click of the trigger.
Martinez did not know that the SWAT team had entered the home at this point.
“Help me. Help me. Help me, Gerry. They’re going to kill me.”
Martinez then heard two pops and then silence. He then saw SWAT team “dragging the body out and putting it on the front lawn.”
The judge's decision Wednesday pointed to the psychologist's testimony and added that "there is no evidence" that when the SWAT team entered the home that Martinez "perceived the suspect posed an imminent threat to law enforcement officers.”
Martinez was represented in his appeal by Louis M. Barbone of Jacobs & Barbone.
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-438-1015 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.