Maurice Gordon’s Family Wants Justice And His Name Spoken
Throughout much of this year, calls for justice have gone out in the names of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks and George Floyd. But there are names of other Black men and women who have succumbed at the hands of white police officers who have largely gone unnoticed. In one such instance, a young, Black man’s family believes it’s time the world knew his story as they plead for those rallying for justice to include him in their fight.
Maurice Gordon, a 28-year-old student at Dutchess Community College, who lived in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., died on May 23, two days before Floyd.
Gordon was experiencing car trouble when state trooper Sgt. Randall Wetzel discovered him in his car on the New Jersey Garden State Parkway. Godon had been instructed to wait in Wetzel’s vehicle until roadside assistance could arrive. In a video released 16 days after his death, Gordon can be seen becoming visibly uncomfortable. He decided to leave the police vehicle and return to his own while they waited for a tow truck.
The officer can be heard yelling “to stay in the f**king car” but a “physical confrontation ensued when Mr. Gordon did not comply,” according to audio and video recordings of the incident compiled by the office of New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal.
Grewal’s office says Gordon tried to enter the driver’s seat of Wetzel’s patrol car twice, But the video shows a scuffle ensuing outside of the car on the second try that ended in the trooper’s service weapon firing several shots, killing Gordon.
That left Gordon’s family looking for answers and demanding justice as Wetzel has yet to be charged and officials are continuing their investigation. The family must now wait to see if a grand jury will determine if there is enough evidence to pursue a case.
Upon learning of Gordon’s death, his mother Raquel Barrett left her home in the United Kingdom and has remained in New York ever since. She told BET.com in an interview that although the incident was months ago, she is still agonized over it.
“I’m still feeling the pain now,” she said. “I can’t sleep at night…I think when I get back to the U.K., it’s gonna hit home because my sofa that I sit on each night waiting for my son to call me, it’s not gonna happen again.”
Barrett said she learned of her son’s death from his father after having last communicated with Gordon about four days before the shooting. She said she was consistently texting him as was her habit to check up on her two, adult children.
“At the time when he was being shot, I was calling him in U.K. time,” she remembered. “That is the oddest thing to feel.”
The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office released a statement that detailed 30 hours before the shooting, which involved a friend calling 911 from Poughkeepsie concerned about Gordon and his whereabouts, along with various other interactions Gordon had that night with New Jersey State Troopers.
Family lawyer William Wagstaff told BET.com that Gordon’s only interactions with Wetzel himself had to do with the problems Gordon was experiencing with his vehicle, nothing more. “At a point he made it clear to Sgt. Wetzel, presumably because he was no longer comfortable and felt threatened and wanted to return to his vehicle.
The statement claims Gordon left the vehicle when Wetzel offered him a mask, to mitigate possible spread of coronavirus, which began the physical confrontation between the two. During that struggle, Gordon tried to get into the driver’s seat of the trooper’s vehicle.
Wagstaff rejected that notion, however, saying the attorney general was trying to “serve a narrative when Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal should just be investigating the case.
“And instead of spending 30 hours prior investigating the shooter, they spent 30 hours prior trying to investigate Mr. Gordon’ts whereabouts,” Wagstaff continued. “There was no indication about anything about police misconduct and an overaggressive police officer as the reason why he’s no longer with us.”
Gordon is one of several cases that involve racial profiling and the disproportionate deaths of Black people at the hands of police, followed by denials of justice. The only problem is that his case has yet to spur the level of interest, protest and outrage received by others.
“Absolutely, Maurice Gordon’s name should be just as loudly pronounced, screamed, yelled and there should be just as much outreach over the death of a Maurice Gordon as any of the other Black and Brown men and women that have been senselessly killed by the police,” said Wagstaff.
Meanwhile, Gordon’s family has no idea when, or if, a criminal prosecution will take place. According to Grewal’s office statement: “Under state law and the Independent Prosecutor Directive, when the entire investigation is complete, the case will be presented to a grand jury, typically consisting of 16 to 23 citizens, to make the ultimate decision regarding whether criminal charges will be filed.”
That means there is no timetable, necessarily on when those next steps will come. Wagstaff believes the state has been dragging its feet.
“There’s no indication of when they’re even going to send the case to the grand jury, and I think this is by design,” he said. “Under statute in the state of New Jersey, prosecutors do not have the autonomy to make a decision on whether a case like this goes to the grand jury, it has to by law.
“So they have been using, in my opinion, COVID as an excuse because the grand jury’s have not been in session because to have 16 to 23 people in a room for the purpose of a grand jury would be rather risky,” he continued, believing that this creates a civil liability for the state. “So they are wanting to hide behind that, I believe, as long as possible.”
While they wait for a grand jury and possibly justice for Maurice Gordon, his mother remains steadfast, relying on her faith to get her through and on her family for guiding support.
“They’re just trying to come to terms with what happened and trying to keep me calm,” she said. “And trying to encourage me to read my Bible, pray a lot, and ask God for guidance. My family, we’re all very close. They feel my pain, sothe only support we have is to just pray together.”
Madison J. Gray is the senior editor for news at BET.com. You can find him on Twitter @@mjgraymedia.