New York

Burning Man Kicked by Jersey City Cops After Chase Ends in Fiery Crash Was Innocent Bystander: Prosecutors

Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop says he wants the officers fired

What to Know

  • Video shows an innocent bystander being beaten by Jersey City officers moments after he was on fire, prosecutors say
  • The bystander's family told News 4 that he has severe burns and fractured ribs; they say he was just heading to work
  • A union representing Jersey City police said the officers were trying to put out the flames and pull the man to safety

An innocent man was beaten by cops after a police chase and shooting that ended in a fiery crash in Jersey City Sunday night, prosecutors say.

The man seen on video being kicked by officers on Tonnelle Avenue turned out to be a bystander who suffered burns in the crash -- not the driver that police officers were pursuing, according to the Hudson County prosecutor's office. 

"Our investigators have reviewed the video and we believe with certainty that this man is the bystander from West New York who suffered burns, not Leo Pinkston, the individual pursued by police," said a spokesman for the prosecutor's office. 

Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop says he wants the officers fired.

"This is unacceptable," he tweeted Wednesday. "We're IDing officers. We'll pursue termination + criminal charges as appropriate." 

He later told News 4, "I don't think there's any explanation that would justify their actions," Fulop said. "The entire pursuit that was previous to that fiery crash had questionable judgment calls from the officers, from the shootings to continuing to pursue the car."  

Prosecutors are continuing to investigate the video, and prosecutors are asking anyone who witnessed the incident to contact them at 201-915-1345. 

The police chase began at Ocean and Cator avenues after 11 p.m., when the driver, identified as the 48-year-old Pinkston, fled police during a traffic stop. Cops pursued him down Tonnelle Avenue, and Pinkston got into a minor crash when he tried to move between two lanes of traffic.

That's when Jersey City police opened fire, though it's not clear if anyone was hit by the bullets, authorities said. Pinkston kept going until he crashed into a utility pole a few blocks away and his vehicle burst into blames. 

Another man happened to be driving along Tonnelle Avenue at the time of the chase, and was critically injured when Pinkston's vehicle combusted, authorities said at the time. Prosecutors now say that was the man in the video being kicked by cops.

A neighbor, Tom Evans, said he watched from his balcony as two cars slammed into the utility pole, then saw emergency responders struggle to pull someone out of a burning car. 

The man who recorded the encounter on video, Eric Roberto, told News 4 he witnessed the officers kicking the injured man and dragging him into the street.

"They didn't help him, they just started kicking him and grabbing him," Roberto said. "I don't think they treated him the right way, and that's not how you treat any human in this world." 

The Jersey City Police Officers Benevolent Association, a union representing Jersey City police officers, said the officers were trying to put out the flames and get the man to safety. 

"Taking swift action isn't always elegant, but this video clearly shows that the officers acted quickly to extinguish the flames, and pull this man out of harm's way," JCPOBA President Carmine Disbrow said in a statement. 

The burned bystander is being treated for his injuries. His family told News 4 New York that he has severe burns and fractured ribs, and that he's going into surgery on Thursday.

"When I saw the images of my son being massacred, it was indescribable. He was just leaving home for work," the victim's father, Tomas Feliz, said. 

Meanwhile, Pinkston is also being treated at a hospital and faces charges of aggravated assault and eluding. Prosecutors didn't immediately say why police initially tried to stop him, nor did they say why he may have fled. 

A spokeswoman for Jersey City says city officials are working with prosecutors to identify the officers in the video. The city will seek termination of the officers, "in addition to any possible criminal penalties in appropriate cases," said Jennifer Morrill. 

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