Last summer, a 14-year-old Black teen was gunned down by police in Trenton, New Jersey. Soon afterward, the juvenile’s mugshot was plastered across the front page of a local newspaper. Who would have guessed a police officer was responsible for illegally releasing the teen’s arrest photos? Now that officer is out of a job and faces possible time behind bars.
According to the Associated Press, former Mercer County Police officer Christopher McKenna, 37, confessed to unlawfully leaking mugshots of Radazz Hearns to a reporter at The Trentonian. Last August, Hearns was shot seven times by officers who accused him of pointing a gun at them.
McKenna accessed a restricted law enforcement database to obtain photos of the teen, New Jersey.com reports. Per the Attorney General’s office, juvenile photos and records are to remain sealed unless the information is necessary for police work. It’s also illegal for officers to distribute such private information to the public.
The former New Jersey police officer violated every aspect of the law when he handed over the photos to the local newspaper. According to New Jersey.com, The Trentonian then published three mugshots along with a story detailing Hearns’ previous arrests. The teen’s name was also printed in the article.
McKenna had been accused of alerting the publication to Hearns’ arrest records too, Think Progress reports. Now, the ex-officer is permanently barred from employment in the State of New Jersey and could spend up to 364 days in prison.
According to the Associated Press, Hearns was hospitalized for about a week following the shooting. New Jersey police were responding to reports of a shooting near a Trenton apartment complex on Aug. 7, 2015 when they encountered Hearns and two other teens. Police say Hearns attempted to flee the scene and pointed a gun at them, after which they fired several shots, hitting the teen in the legs and buttocks.
But the authorities’ story began to unravel when a witness came forward and gave a differing account of what happened. According to Think Progress, Rhonda Tirado saw the chase and subsequent shooting from her window. She confirmed that the officers confronted the three teens and that Hearns tried to run. However, Tirado said it looked as if Hearns was trying to pull up his pants as he ran — not grab for a weapon, Think Progress states.
“Those police were amped and they didn’t give that little boy a chance,” Tirado explained to New Jersey.com. “There was no room for no chase. They just shot that little boy right there.”
Hearns, now 15, later told an associate that he was actually trying to toss the handgun that was in his possession, which a witness confirmed, Think Progress reports.
Prosecutors opted to charge the teen in juvenile court rather than adult court; he was convicted of possessing a handgun, possessing a defaced firearm, and aggravated assault. According to the news site, Hearns rejected a number of plea deals before he ultimately pleaded guilty to having the defaced firearm. Under the conditions of the plea bargain, the charges will be expunged from his record when he turns 18.
McKenna’s misconduct could potentially compromise the teen’s chance for a fresh start, however. With Hearns’ arrest photos floating around, it could make securing a future job or an education that much harder.
“Retention of juvenile records does little to improve public safety but creates significant barriers to success for youth who are trying to move beyond the mistakes they made as a kid,” an attorney from the Juvenile Law Center explained. “Permanent, open records are like a ball and chain that prevents youth from becoming productive adults, reducing opportunities for employment, eroding the tax base and can lead to increased recidivism due to reduced job prospects.”
McKenna’s sentencing is scheduled for July 29, the Associated Press reports.