N.J. Settles Turnpike Shooting Case

State officials have agreed to pay $12.95 million to settle a lawsuit filed by three men who were wounded in the 1998 shooting on the New Jersey Turnpike and a fourth man who was driving the van they were riding in.

The amount was disclosed by attorneys for the four men at a New York news conference today. Aides to lead attorney Johnnie Cochran Jr. had disclosed the settlement earlier in the day.

In the settlement, the state did not admit liability nor did it deny liability, according to the lawyers.

But plaintiffs' attorney Peter Neufeld said, "We think that money speaks volumes about what happened that night."

Lawyers Cochran, Neufeld and Barry Scheck, as well as several New Jersey attorneys, filed suit in April 1999, accusing the state police and the two troopers of violating the young men's constitutional rights by shooting them without provocation. The lawyers for the four men — Danny Reyes, Rayshawn Brown, LeRoy Jarmaine Grant and Keshon Moore — have said in the past all four would share a settlement.

Touched Off Racial Profiling Furor

The lawsuit alleged Troopers John Hogan and James Kenna pulled the van over solely because the occupants are minorities. Three of the men are black and one is Hispanic. Cochran said he had intended to make state police patterns of racial profiling — stopping motorists just because they are black — a key focus of his civil case.

The four men were traveling to North Carolina Central University to showcase their basketball skills in hopes of a scholarship when they were pulled over by Hogan and Kenna near Interchange 7A in Mercer County. Moore, who was driving, is black.

The shooting and the subsequent disclosure of arrest records on the turnpike touched off a furor over racial profiling. A special prosecutor got indictments for attempted murder against Hogan and Kenna, but the charge was later dropped for Hogan. He still faces aggravated assault and other charges related to the shooting.

Hogan and Kenna were also indicted for falsifying traffic-stop reports to conceal the fact they had been selecting black drivers disproportionately.

The troopers maintain they opened fire on the van when it rolled back toward them. The four men say the troopers overreacted and were never in danger.

Sharpton: "Step in the Right Direction'

Attorneys for the troopers are appealing to have the charges against them dismissed. Arsenault, who is Kenna's attorney, said the public settlement of the civil case damages Kenna's chances of a fair trial on the criminal charges.

At a rally in East Orange today, the Rev. Al Sharpton called the deal a victory for those who helped bring the racial profiling issue to national attention, and said he felt vindicated by the agreement.

"Racial profiling has become a national issue off of what we did in this case. When we first got involved, the state said I was agitating, that there was no racial profiling. Now they are making a multimillion dollar settlement. If that is not an admission, what is?

"It's an incomplete victory until the police pay criminally, but the state has had to change what it does," Sharpton said. "It's a step in the right direction."