Police who shot an armed Ventnor man to death during a standoff last October are cleared of wrongdoing by the New Jersey Attorney General's Office.

Boris Katsman

State investigators declared the use of force against John Fetter III, 49, by the Atlantic County Emergency Response Team (ERT) and local officers justified under law, based on witness interviews, forensic analysis, an autopsy, and related evidence. The finding means that at grand jury presentation is not required.

According to information filed in the case, it began as a domestic violence report and carried overtones of suicide-by-cop. Fetter's mother called 911 at about 6:22 PM on October 3, claiming that Fetter was inebriated, fighting with his father, and armed with a long gun.

ERT and local police converged on the North Burghley Avenue house. Fetter's father told officers that his son and wife were still indoors, and that his son fired two shotgun rounds. As Fetter's mother left the house, another shotgun blast erupted, authorities said. The parents were moved away from the area.

Two Ventnor officers, with support from a Longport patrolman, placed their SUVs on the street directly in front of Fetter's house. Fetter's father approached the SUVs, ignored warnings to retreat, and was handcuffed, authorities said.

At about 6:45 PM, after disregarding repeated calls to emerge unarmed, Fetter fired two rifle rounds from a window, and demanded to speak with a Ventnor officer who intervened in previous domestic abuse incidents involving Fetter's family. The officer he specified arrived and set up phone contact, but did not convince Fetter to emerge.

Authorities said that Fetter expressed a desire to die, that he new that a SWAT team would arrive, and that if he could not "do it," then "you guys will have to do it."

ERT members in a Bearcat armored truck arrived. Fetter allegedly pointed a gun from a living-room window. Authorities said that witnesses gave conflicting accounts of whether the weapon was fired, but that two officers believed he did. A third officer, who had fired at Fetter earlier, reported hearing a colleague say "gun," and touched off two rifle rounds, to which Fetter reportedly responded, "You missed me."

As the SWAT aggregation emerged from the Bearcat, authorities said, one member indicated that he fired one round at Fetter when Fetter pointed a gun at them from a window.

Fetter appeared at the front door, holding a black, .22-caliber handgun pointed downward, in front of him. While officers shouted commands to drop it, Fetter raised it and pointed it at them, authorities said.

Seven officers opened fire, stopping after Fetter hit the ground. Backup SWAT officers administered first aid to Fetter, and EMS technicians who arrived to assume first-aid efforts pronounced him dead.

The autopsy listed 10 gunshot wounds, one through Fetter's chest that "did substantial damage" to his lungs and heart, and the rest in his extremities and buttocks. His blood alcohol content was listed at 0.258 percent, three times New Jersey's legal limit of 0.08 to determine intoxication.