Prosecutor releases report on 2013 fatal police-involved shooting in Trenton

(Left to Right) Detectives William Miller, Edgar Rios and James Letts received the NJ State PBA's highest honor for their bravery during an August 2013 shootout in Trenton. (Contributed Photo)

(Left to Right) Detectives William Miller, Edgar Rios and James Letts received the NJ State PBA’s highest honor for their bravery during an August 2013 shootout in Trenton. (Contributed Photo)

On the morning that Eric McNeil was justifiably shot and killed by police, he presumably knew that his life would end that day.

According to the results of the investigation, which was released Wednesday by the county prosecutor’s office, McNeil sent a text message to a family member earlier that morning stating, “I might not be alive this whole day so ima tell you now dat I love you.”

On the morning of Aug. 15, 2013, McNeil allegedly broke into his ex-girlfriend’s house and brutally beat her; he also stabbed and killed her three-week-old puppy. Police found the victim bruised and beaten and took her to TPD headquarters. McNeil fled the scene before police arrived and was considered armed and dangerous. But unbeknownst to the victim, he later returned to the woman’s home.

Around 8:30 a.m. that day, now-retired Detective Edgar Rios and Detective Jimmy Letts were escorting the domestic violence victim back to her Hobart Avenue home to retrieve additional evidence related to the incident when they were ambushed by McNeil.

When Rios, Letts and the victim arrived at the residence, they paused to examine a box the woman had left outside with the trash. The box, at one point, contained the puppy’s remains, and the detectives examined it as evidence while waiting for Detective William Miller of the Mercer County Sheriff’s Office to assist in taking pictures of the crime scene. Moments after the trio arrived at the house, McNeil walked out of the front door firing gunshots.

Eric McNeil

Eric McNeil

In Wednesday’s release, the county prosecutor did not name the detectives involved in the shooting. But The Trentonian has interviewed all three detectives numerous times over the past two years, and the following account is based on their statements as well as the prosecutor’s report.

After being shot, Rios scrambled to his vehicle and radioed for assistance. Letts fell after being shot, but he returned gunfire from the ground, striking McNeil as he stood on the sidewalk pointing his gun at him. The prosecutor’s report says McNeil fell after initially being shot, but then tried to stand and continued holding his gun, so Letts fired again, killing McNeil. Letts then stood and handcuffed McNeil, according to the report.

Letts was shot in his right shoulder and the right side of his abdomen. Rios was shot once in the side of his torso and once in his back. McNeil was killed in the shootout and pronounced dead at the scene. Miller, who was nearby collecting his camera gear when he heard the first shot, never fired his weapon and was not struck by gunfire.

Prosecutors say a Smith and Wesson .38 caliber revolver with five spent shell casings in the cylinder was found lying on the ground where McNeil fell. That gun, prosecutors say, was reported stolen during a 2012 burglary in Trenton. Detectives also recovered four .40 caliber shell casings that were from Letts’ service weapon: three were found in the street and one was found in the nearby grass.

Investigators concluded that Letts used an acceptable level of force in the incident, and Acting Mercer County Prosecutor Angelo Onofri determined the case did not require examination by a grand jury. The report released Wednesday says the Attorney General agreed the matter did not need to be presented to a grand jury based on undisputed facts of the shooting.

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