02/04/2008

Off-duty N.J. cop fatally shoots man in a doorstep encounter

By Jonathan Casiano
Star-Ledger Staff

NEWARK, N.J. — Khalif Cousar was looking for someone when he and three other men pulled their truck onto North 12th Street in Newark early yesterday.

A cocked pistol in his hand, Cousar, 29, of East Orange, and another man got out of the car and pounded on the front door of a beige two-family house just after 5 a.m., police said. They demanded to see the person they thought was inside, police said.

Instead, a Newark police officer opened the door, armed with his service weapon just in case there was trouble.

He tried to tell the men they were at the wrong house. But after seeing Cousar's handgun pointed squarely at him, the officer drew his gun and fired three times, striking Cousar at least twice in the chest, authorities said.

Cousar was taken to University Hospital, where he died a short time later. The officer, a six-year police veteran whom authorities said they did not identify because they said he is the victim of a crime, was not injured. A loaded, semi-automatic handgun was recovered from the scene, authorities said.

Meanwhile, detectives spent the day questioning the three men who arrived with Cousar, trying to figure out why they went to North 12th Street and whom they went there to find. They may have been seeking someone involved in the robbery of a friend earlier in the day, said Detective Todd McClendon, a spokesman for Newark police.

"It appears that the individuals were knocking on the wrong residence," said Paul Loriquet, a spokesman for the Essex County Prosecutor's Office.

As with all police-involved shootings, the case has been turned over to the prosecutor's office, which will investigate and present its findings to a grand jury for review. Loriquet said a preliminary investigation indicates the shooting was justified.

No charges had been filed as of yesterday evening, McClendon said.

It is unclear who lives at the North 12th Street house, but Loriquet said it was not the officer's home. The house appears to be divided into several apartments, but no one answered the door late yesterday morning. One neighbor said a police officer had lived in the house for a number of years, but rarely came outside. Other neighbors said they were unsure who lived there.

According to authorities, the officer was awake and getting ready for his shift when he heard a car door slam outside. Then he heard heavy pounding on the front door.

"It was a loud banging, not a typical knock. So he came down with his service weapon," Loriquet said.

The gunshots that rang out next were clearly heard by Linda, a 45-year-old neighbor who declined to give her last name. She said she heard shots and saw a burgundy jeep parked in front of the home. She then saw police swarm the scene and throw the other three men to the ground.

She said she thinks the gunman and his companions were from out of town. Otherwise, she said, they would have known that police and corrections officers live all up and down her street.

Copyright 2008 The Star-Ledger

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