Newark cop convicted of reckless manslaughter for 2016 fatal shooting outside Union bar

The Newark police officer who fatally shot an acquaintance following an argument and fight at a Union Township bar a little more than two years ago has been convicted of reckless manslaughter, acting Union County Prosecutor Michael A. Monahan announced Wednesday.

A jury deliberated for approximately 21 hours over a span of six days before returning the verdict against Joseph Macchia, 37, late Tuesday afternoon.

During the early morning of Friday, May 13, 2016, Union Township police responded to Paddy’s Place, a bar on the 900 block of Rosemont Avenue North in Union, and there they found the body of 37-year-old Michael Gaffney of Piscataway on the sidewalk, according to Special Prosecutions Unit Supervisor and Assistant Prosecutor John Esmerado, who prosecuted the case.

Gaffney shortly thereafter was pronounced dead at the scene, Esmerado said. A comprehensive, long-term investigation involving the Prosecutor’s Office’s Special Prosecutions Unit and Homicide Task Force, the Union County Sheriff’s Office Crime Scene Unit, the Union County Police Department Ballistics Unit, the Union County Medical Examiner’s Office, and the Union Township Police Department ensued, ultimately determining that just prior to the shooting, Macchia and Gaffney engaged in a physical altercation at the bar.

After several minutes, Macchia and Gaffney separated and briefly reconciled, but moments later, they reengaged. During the course of the ensuing fight, Esmerado said, Macchia produced his service weapon and fired four times, striking Gaffney in the torso with three of the shots.

Macchia’s blood-alcohol level was later measured at 0.13 percent. He was indicted and turned himself in to authorities in December 2016, with bail set at $100,000.

State Superior Court Judge John M. Deitch, who presided over the three-week trial, revoked bail on Tuesday, ordering Macchia to be taken into custody by sheriff’s officers pending a Friday, July 27 sentencing date. Moments earlier Deitch had asked the jury foreman if the State had disproven  the defense’s argument of self-defense, and he responded in the affirmative before announcing the verdict.

“This case marked a prime example of the tragic and senseless consequences that often arise when alcohol and firearms align,” acting Union County Prosecutor Michael A. Monahan said. “We feel that justice was served with the verdict reached by the jury yesterday, and we sincerely thank the jurors for their long period of service and careful consideration of the facts.”

“Police officers swear a solemn oath to uphold the law and to protect and serve the public, but in this case, an officer took the law into his own hands and recklessly ended a life,” First Assistant Prosecutor Albert Cernadas Jr. said.

This investigation was conducted in strict accordance with New Jersey Office of the Attorney General Directive 2006-5 and the July 28, 2015 supplemental directive, which governs all investigations into use of deadly force by law enforcement.

Convictions on second-degree crimes of this nature are commonly punishable by 5 to 10 years in state prison, with the No Early Release Act (NERA) provision that 85 percent of the sentence be served before the possibility of parole also applying.