LEONIA — Rickey McFadden was well-known at the CVS pharmacy on Leonia’s Broad Avenue. He often stopped in to buy snacks or medication for diabetes and other maladies, his family said.
On Sunday evening, he was armed with a knife when he entered the store, taking cash and other items and leaving on foot, the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office said.
Still holding the knife, McFadden was shot dead two blocks from the pharmacy by police officers who responded to the reported robbery, authorities said.
Investigators haven’t released the details of what happened at the corner of Hillside Avenue and Kingsley Street before McFadden was shot several times — or what caused the officers, whose names have also not been released, to open fire.
McFadden’s grieving relatives gathered Monday in his Grand Avenue apartment, struggling to reconcile their memories of the “warm and protective” son who doted on his 69-year-old mother and the armed man who authorities said confronted four police officers in the street.
“I know my brother, and this was so not like him,” said McFadden’s sister, Cherry Vinson of Teaneck. “He was not the kind of person I’m seeing on the Internet or TV or hearing about on the radio. I don’t recognize that person.”
According to relatives, the 47-year-old McFadden was schizophrenic and bipolar and had been admitted to Bergen Regional Medical Center for psychiatric care for a week last year. Vinson said Leonia police knew about her brother’s struggles with mental illness.
“They have known him for 30 years — they know us very well,” she said.
“People who know my brother …” she said, shaking her head in disbelief and choking back tears, “they would never expect that they would gun him down like that.”
Prosecutor John L. Molinelli, whose office is investigating the shooting, did not release the names of the three officers who fired shots at McFadden, referring requests for that information to the two departments involved — Leonia and Palisades Park.
Leonia Police Chief Jay Ziegler, in turn, declined to discuss the shooting, referring questions to Molinelli’s office. He said the Leonia officer involved in the shooting would be identified “within the next several days.”
Palisades Park Chief Benjamin Ramos said Monday the two officers from his department who fired their weapons were “seasoned officers,” but cited the ongoing investigation in declining to release their names. The names of the officers, who are on paid administrative leave, would be made public by the end of the week, he said.
Molinelli said Sunday all three officers have retained legal representation, but it was unclear if they did so before they were questioned in the prosecutor’s investigation.
Bergen County Police Chief Brian Higgins said weapons used in fatal shootings would be considered evidence and turned over to the Prosecutor’s Office for ballistics testing. Department chiefs would decide when the officers may get their weapons back after the guns are released.
The Record has submitted Open Public Records Act requests to the county for incident reports and officers’ accounts of their use of deadly force, transcripts of 911 calls in the robbery and video recordings from vehicle-mounted police cameras.
According to a written statement from Molinelli, police responded just after 4:30 p.m. to a 911 call to Bergen County dispatchers reporting a robbery at the store.
Neighbor Cheryl Leahy said she would often see McFadden walking through the neighborhood or driving around in his black truck. She heard the gunfire, which shattered the rear window of a nearby parked car.
“In 22 years, nothing like this has ever happened around here,” she said. “The police used a whole can of Mace on him and he didn’t go down. And then, I heard pop, pop, pop, pop. I heard that gunfire and we rushed the kids into the basement.”
The victim’s nephew, Andre McFadden, said his uncle struggled with mental illness for about two years, and had stopped driving three months ago, after an accident.
He said his uncle “seemed off” the last few days, “as if he stopped taking his medication.” He questioned if police had no other option but to shoot him and said he couldn’t fathom why his uncle would rob a store that he frequented.
“I know he did what he did, I just don’t know why. No one knows why,” he said.
Rickey McFadden had a minor criminal record. According to court records, McFadden was arrested in Englewood this year and charged with third-degree resisting arrest, but the charges were downgraded in July and transferred to Englewood Municipal Court. He also was arrested in 1989 on drug charges in Mercer County and received Pretrial Intervention.
McFadden’s death is the third since the beginning of September in North Jersey in which police shot and killed a person who reportedly was emotionally disturbed. A Paterson man who police said was wielding a hammer when officers forced their way into his bedroom and a North Bergen man with a knife were both fatally shot Sept. 1.
Remnants of Sunday’s crime scene — including broken police tape, a few latex gloves and emergency lighting — remained outside the pharmacy when Cathy Mickiewicz of Leonia arrived there Monday morning.
“This is an aberration,” she said. “It’s unimaginable in this town, especially someone coming here with a knife.”
The last fatal shooting in Leonia was in 2001, when a man killed his ex-girlfriend at the Grandview condo complex they had shared. Leonia Mayor John DeSimone said Sunday’s incident was the first police shooting he could remember in his 52 years in the borough.
DeSimone described Leonia police officers as professionals and said they most likely shot McFadden because they had no choice.
At the end of the day, they’ll protect the borough and themselves,” he said.
A woman who stopped by DeSimone’s hardware store on Broad Avenue, although she declined to give her name, said she agreed with the mayor’s assessment of the police officers’ actions.
“The cops here are very mild-mannered, very low-key,” she said. “You wouldn’t even know they have a gun on them.”
– From NorthJersey.com