#WhyTheyShootMe? Police remain silent on shooting unarmed 14yo seven times

© Family handout
An unarmed 14-year-old was shot by police in Trenton, New Jersey at least seven times. Now his family, friends, community and even a US congresswoman are searching for answers, as law enforcement officials refuse to release details about the case.

Radazz Hearns, 14, was wounded last Friday. The teen was fleeing from three New Jersey police officers assigned to the Targeted Integrated Deployment Effort (TIDE), a multi-agency task force created to address violence in Trenton. They were investigating a report of multiple shots fired in the area.

The two state troopers and one Mercer County sheriff’s officer saw three males on foot near the site where the shots were reported to have been heard. The three officers got out of their minivan to question the three youths, two of whom cooperated with the police request. The third ‒ who was not named but later identified as Hearns ‒ ran away, the state Attorney General’s Office said in a statement on Monday.


“Witnesses reported that as the other state trooper and the sheriff’s officer ran after the 14-year-old, the youth was reaching into his waistband. A .22-caliber automatic handgun containing three rounds of ammunition was later recovered underneath a vehicle at the scene,” the statement read. “Both of the pursuing officers fired at the 14-year-old, striking him in both legs and the buttocks.”

Hearns remains in  stable condition in a Trenton hospital with five gunshot wounds in his right leg, one in his left and a bullet lodged in his pelvis, lawyer Samuel A. Anyan Jr., who is representing the teen’s family, told the Times of Trenton.

“The incident remains under investigation by the Attorney General’s Shooting Response Team and no further information is being released at this time,” the statement said. “The names of the state trooper and the sheriff’s officer involved in the shooting are not being released.”

Witnesses, including some who had yet to be interviewed by law enforcement nearly a week after the shooting, questioned why the officers thought Hearns and his friends could have been involved in the gunshots they were investigating. She said she didn’t see the teen with a gun but, as he turned to run, he had grabbed his red sweatpants to keep them from falling down.

"Those police were amped and they didn't give that little boy a chance,'' Rhonda Tirado, who was sitting in front of her Trenton home when the gunfire erupted, told the Times of Trenton Wednesday, while describing the shooting at the place where the encounter started. "There was no room for no chase. They just shot that little boy right there."

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She added that no one from law enforcement has asked her about what she saw that night, although Peter Aseltine, a spokesman for the attorney general, said his office is interested in talking with Tirado and other witnesses.

"Our priority is to conduct an absolutely careful, thorough and fair investigation," Aseltine told the Times of Trenton.

The shooting of Hearns has led to a new hashtag, #WhyTheyShootMe, that began trending on Twitter Wednesday night. The phrase references what the teen said as he was placed on the stretcher.

Hearns’ family is upset with the lack of information coming from the Attorney General’s Office regarding the case, and, like Tirado, believe that there was no need to shoot the 14-year-old.

"He's lucky to be alive," Anyan said. "We'll be seeking justice. This appears to be an unjustified shooting."

The family isn’t the only one concerned by the radio silence concerning the case. Politicians are calling on the Attorney General’s Office to release more information regarding the shooting.

“Public safety is my primary and imminent concern; the public must have full confidence in the investigatory agencies that are tasked with uncovering the truth,” Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-New Jersey) said in a statement asking for a federal investigation into the case.

“When there is no communication, the public frequently feels misled and we see the kind of disruption and violence witnessed in Ferguson or Baltimore,” she continued. “By giving the public a vested interest in maintaining the legitimacy of investigations like this one, we can work together to guarantee that objective justice remains our goal.”

Activists have also criticized the Attorney General’s Office for the lack of details revealed to the public.

“We have gotten no information on what exactly officials are doing in terms of investigating this beyond it’s an ongoing investigation,” community activist Caitlin Fair told the Atlanta Blackstar. “And given the current climate, which has resulted from innumerable incidents of police brutality, misconduct, and cover up attempts, we do not trust the police to be investigated by themselves, or by any extension of their operation, including the [New Jersey] Attorney General’s office.”