S.B. officers cleared

in Dec. fatal shooting

Family of victim

is ‘outraged’ over

grand jury finding


Middlesex County grand jury has determined that the officers involved in a fatal December shooting in Kendall Park were legally justified.

According to a report released by the County Prosecutor’s Office on Wednesday, the grand jury found that Sgt. Raymond Hayducka "was legally justified" when he fired the shot that eventually took the life of 30-year-old Kyung Ho La during a tense confrontation Dec. 20.

The grand jury reviewed the testimony of 18 witnesses as well as 30 items of evidence during their deliberations.

While the report cleared the officers of criminal wrongdoing, it did question the training of the officers involved in handling the incident.

Some of the jurors questioned if the officers were prepared to deal with someone with a mental deficiency, and if other measures could have been used to prevent the loss of life.

According to the report, Hayducka, and Patrolman Scott Williams, joined three other officers in escorting two mental health workers to the 27 Raleigh Road home La shared with his parents, Bak and Myung Ok La, to evaluate him.

According to police, the evaluation was to determine if La was a danger to himself or others after they received reports of bizarre behavior by La over a period of time.

The report states that police called the home prior to the visit to announce the purpose of the visit, and their intentions.

Upon arriving at the home at approximately 3:40 p.m., La’s father suggested that the visitors meet with his son in the garage of the home.

According to the report, La became agitated when being interviewed by one of the mental health workers and re-entered the house and immediately picked up a sword blade measuring between 18-20 inches long.

La refused the repeated commands by the officers to drop the weapon, retreating further inside the home.

Weapons drawn, Hayducka and Williams followed La at close range fearing for the safety of La’s mother inside the home.

According to the report, the three other officers waited outside the home as back-up.

La then lunged at Hayducka with the sword blade.

Hayducka stepped back to avoid the blade, firing a shot at La.

Additional officers were called to the house after the shot was fired.

La then retreated further into the home, still grasping the blade, according to the report.

After about 10 minutes, La laid down on the living room floor and surrendered the blade and was arrested.

It was then that the officers first knew definitely that La had been injured, the report said.

La was transported to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick where he underwent two surgeries for his wounds.

La died at about 1:50 a.m. the following morning.

An autopsy by Acting Medical Examiner Frederick DiCarlo determined that La died from hemorrhagic shock (blood loss) as the result of a single gun shot wound which entered the right hip area, and damaged a number of organs and severed the left femoral artery.

Livingston Attorney Bruce Nagel, who represents the La family, took issue with the version of events, saying that it would be "virtually impossible" for La to sustain such injury and run into another room.

"The entire story is preposterous," Nagel said in a prepared statement, calling for the state attorney general to review the case.

South Brunswick Police Chief Michael Paquette said that while the grand jury questioned the training of the officers in the situation, simply following their commands could have averted the incident

"Although tragic, the incident could have been prevented by Mr. La complying with the officers requests," Paquette said in a news release.

Paquette said that his agency is one of the most highly and professionally trained in the state and that officers logged some 4,000 hours of training last year alone.

Paquette said that Williams and Hayducka received cultural and diversity training at the New Jersey Community Policing Institute, and Williams had additional sensitivity training during his tenure at Rutgers University, New Brunswick.

"This was a situation brought on by Mr. La himself, which put the officers, mental health screeners, his family, and neighbors at risk of serious bodily harm," Paquette said.

Rumors cause some SBHS parents to panic

Early reports about gun, misinformation fuel fear

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South Brunswick High School Principal Thomas Kietrys speaks at a news conference at the municipal building on Route 522 about a lockdown at the high school last week. Chief of Police Michael D. Paquette stands in the background.

SOUTH BRUNSWICK — Early reports and rumors fed the fires of fear during an incident at South Brunswick High School last week.

The school was locked down for about two and a half hours as police and school officials investigated a false report of a gun being brought to school last Thursday.

Although the report turned out to be a hoax, about 150 anxious parents, reacting to rumors and early media reports, flocked to the Crossroads Middle School on Major Road to demand answers from police and Board of Education officials.

"Some of the reports were saying that shots were fired at the school," South Brunswick Police Lt. Ron Schmalz, the department’s public information officer, said.

Schmalz said that the parents were calmed once they were updated on what was really going on at the high school.

Police ended the lockdown at 10:45 a.m. when they determined the threat to be a hoax, and the school returned to its normal full day schedule.

According to Schmalz, sketchy news reports early on during the incident, and word-of-mouth rumors, gave parents several different pictures of the incident, many of them inaccurate.

Reporters from several news organizations arrived on the scene shortly after the lockdown started at 8:15 a.m., and one radio station provided live updates on the situation, Schmalz said.

Reporters used information provided by students calling out of the building on cellular phones, or their parents, for their reports.

"It is like the game of telephone," Schmalz said during a news conference at the municipal building following the incident.

In the game, one person in a line tells the next person a story and each person relays it in turn. By the time you get to the last person, the story has changed, sometimes dramatically.

By the time the news conference was called, between 11 a.m. and noon, about 25 reporters from around the region had filled the main meeting room for the official briefing.

"Word does get out," high school Principal Thomas Kietrys said following the conference.

Kietrys said that school policy does not allow cellular phones or pagers to be used by students in the building, but that consequences are not severe for those students who continue to use them during school.

"We certainly won’t frisk anybody," he said, adding that the devices should be kept in students’ lockers.

Kietrys said that he hoped that the events of the day would show students the dangers of giving out misinformation.

"They need to be accurate in their communications," Kietrys said.

S.B. Library to host a

children’s tea March 18

All South Brunswick children in kindergarten through the sixth grade are invited to celebrate March at the South Brunswick Tea. This tea will take place on March 18 in the main meeting room at the Library, and will feature a story, crafts, game, food and special book displays.

Children in kindergarten through grade 2 may register for the 1-2:15 p.m. tea, children grades 3-6 are to attend the 3-4:15 p.m. tea.

A parent or other adult is to accompany younger children to provide help with the craft project.

The South Brunswick Tea is sponsored by the Friends of the Library. Registration is required for both these events. Space is limited. Please register in the children’s room or call the library at (732) 329-4000, ext. 285.

Children who are too young to attend the tea are invited to the regular story time at 11 a.m. on March 18.

S.B., N.B. only towns

with display policies

Majority of county

towns permit

holiday displays

SOUTH BRUNSWICK — Of the 25 municipalities in Middlesex County, only North and South Brunswick have formally adopted a policy regarding holiday displays.

According to a recent survey of towns, conducted by the Middlesex County Human Relations Commission last spring, the policies in these two towns resulted from objections to previous practices.

"The results were to give other towns an idea of what was being done," commission Co-chairman Robert Stone said, adding that the commission did not plan for the survey to be made public.

While South Brunswick banned all displays in 1998, North Brunswick established a resolution creating a Diversity Display Committee composed of clergy, and interested community residents.

That committee is now included in the North Brunswick Human Relations Council, according to the survey.

The township reported that it has dedicated a piece of land next to the municipal building as an area for displays approved by the committee to be placed.

The site, the survey reports, contains a plaque that reads: "This site has been designated by the Township of North Brunswick to encourage resident communities to erect seasonal displays that, taken together, celebrate the diverse, multicultural nature of our community."

Township officials said that they believe this site meets the standards of the U.S. Constitution.

The survey of the towns revealed that the majority have been able to have a display during the season, but do not have a formal policy in place.

According to the survey, 18 towns have some kind of display, and six of the municipalities reported no observances during the winter holiday season.

Cranbury did not respond to the survey.

Plainsboro officials reported that they have no formal observation, but that municipal employees decorate a Christmas tree, and display a menorah in the lobby of the municipal building.

Nine towns display both a Christmas tree and menorah, according to the survey.

South Brunswick’s decision to eliminate any displays on municipal property in 1998 followed a complaint the previous year about the display of a Christmas tree and menorah at Woodlot Park on New Road, according to the survey.

None of the communities surveyed reported being involved in litigation from the displays.

Holiday displays will remain banned in S.B.

Council votes down holiday displays 3-2

SOUTH BRUNSWICK — After weeks of passionate debate, the Township Council rejected a resolution that would allow religious displays on municipal property.

The Tuesday night vote followed weeks of passionate debate among the five council members, as well as members of the community.

Deputy Mayor Frank Gambatese and Councilwoman Carol Barrett joined lone Republican Councilman Ted Van Hessen in opposing the resolution.

Barrett and Gambatese both read prepared statements explaining their change of position.

Barrett said she decided that having the displays without offending any of the residents was not possible.

"I originally wanted decorations," Barrett said, but "if I find an issue is divisive, especially on an issue that is supposed to bring happiness, then I must vote against holiday displays."

Gambatese said that he has struggled with the issue, and that most of the people he has talked with were neutral.

"They wonder what all the fuss is about," Gambatese said.

Gambatese said that he was saddened by the local clergy.

"I have learned from most of our religious leaders that they are more concerned about divisiveness than about teaching respect and tolerance. That saddens me deeply," Gambatese said.

Gambatese concluded by saying that he would vote no on the resolution because of his "desire to avoid a Pandora’s box of legal entanglements."

Mayor Debra Johnson and Councilman Edmund Luciano voted to permit the displays.

"I’m not sure how this became a religious issue," Johnson said, adding that she was concerned about "what we will lose" in defeating the displays.

According to Johnson, such township events as the Haunted Halloween trail and the annual Kwanzaa celebration may be threatened by the policy.

Township Attorney Bertram Busch said that the resolution’s defeat leaves the secular display policy set late last year in place.

The council decided to look at the issue after it received a petition from 60 seniors at the township’s Senior Center asking to have a holiday tree last December.

Such displays have been banned in the township since 1998.

The township decided to ban the displays following a federal court’s ruling that such displays were unconstitutional.

A different panel of that same Third Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision last year, upholding a diversity display in Jersey City.

Members of the local clergy and the township’s Human Relations Commission both feel that the displays should not be allowed on public property, but should be left to individuals and businesses to erect.

In response to the seniors’ petition, the council voted to overturn the ban in December allowing secular winter displays, including snowflakes, candy canes and snowmen.

Council vowed at that time to look at the issue again.

Council members strongly debated the new resolution during a February work session, but put off a vote during the next regular meeting.

At that meeting, Barrett and Gambatese said that they favored the resolution, but promised that they would study it prior to voting.

Van Hessen said that he used to favor such displays, but had changed his mind on the issue.

A majority of residents speaking during the public session asked the council to vote the resolution down.

Human relations Committee member Martin Abschutz reported that the commission is still opposed to allowing the displays.

"We don’t want South Brunswick to be another case to come before the courts," Abschutz said.

Abschutz said the commission feels that individuals should be the ones to erect any displays and that the churches should be open for people to become educated in different religious cultures.

"Government does not have to do it for us," he said.

Gwen Southgate said that any kind of display would create a crack in the separation of church and state.

"It is a slippery slope," Southgate said, adding that she found the discussion "really scary" on how the wall representing the separation between church and state is eroding.

"We are sliding very rapidly toward a de facto religion," she said.

Speaking for the resolution, resident Paul Kessler said that the seniors who initially signed a petition to request that the council allow holiday decorations at the Senior Center did so because it was the first time they were prohibited from having a display.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Kessler presented a second petition with 128 names in support of allowing a decorated tree at the center.

"We request that our annual holiday tree and trimmings be returned," he said.

Kessler said that the petition had signatures from a diverse group of people and that the center was decorated during many different holidays representing a diverse population.

"There was no culture cut out," he said.