DA Finds New Hope Police-Involved Shooting Not Justified, But Excused

District Attorney Matthew D. Weintraub today issues his findings from the investigation of last month’s officer-involved shooting in New Hope Borough.

“After careful consideration, I have determined that [the officer’s] shooting of arrestee Brian Riling on March 3, 2019, was neither justified, nor criminal, but was excused,” Weintraub wrote in a letter to New Hope Police Chief Michael Cummings.

Weintraub said the law excuses the shooting officer’s conduct from criminal prosecution because of his “honest but mistaken” belief he was deploying his Taser at the time he discharged his service weapon.

Bucks County Detectives conducted a thorough investigation of the March 3 incident in accordance with the normal procedure for officer-involved shootings in Bucks County. At all times during the investigation the officer was on paid administrative leave from the date of the incident until his retirement from the police department April 10.

Because the officer is not being charged, his name will not be released, per District Attorney’s Office protocol.

The District Attorney’s Office probe included extensive review of police reports and video footage describing and depicting the altercation and subsequent shooting, interviews with involved parties and the examination of the circumstances surrounding Riling’s detention and arrest on March 3.

In the video, Riling is seen entering a holding cell and removing his belt at the direction of an officer. At that time, a white, rectangular object consistent with a drug baggie falls from his waistband to the cell floor. The officer attempts to move Riling, a fit, 6 foot 4 inches tall, 240-pound construction worker, off of the object.

A struggle ensues, during which Riling throws the item he was stepping on into the cell’s toilet. The officer who later shot Riling then enters the cell to assist his fellow officer, who is wrestling with Riling on a bench inside the cell. With his service firearm in his hand, the second officer yells “Taser!” before shooting Riling in the torso.

Riling then falls to the ground and both officers leave the cell. Riling is seen flushing the toilet as he slumps to the ground.

Following the shooting, Riling was treated by other officers before being transported to St. Mary Medical Center where he was held in critical condition for several days. He has since been released under his own power.

Immediately prior to the shooting, he had been arrested and charged with intimidation and retaliation against a victim, simple assault and related offenses stemming from an earlier incident March 3. He is also charged with burglarizing the same victim’s home in mid-February.

The officer who shot Riling was aware of these two criminal episodes ahead of the holding cell incident, and had himself heard threats of violence made by Riling during a phone call between Riling and the previously mentioned victim.

These details are not provided as proof of criminal behavior on Riling’s part, but to illustrate the mindset of the officer who shot him. Riling is presumed innocent of these allegations unless and until they are proven in court.

Given the totality of circumstances, the officer would have been justified in using his Taser to regain control of Riling inside the holding cell, DA Weintraub said in his letter, as the officer had a reasonable belief the scuffle posed a danger to his fellow officer.

The use of a firearm must be an officer’s last resort, Weintraub wrote, and was not justified in this case. However, the letter continues, because the officer believed he was deploying his Taser and not wielding his service firearm, he did not possess the criminal mental state required to be guilty of a crime under state law.

As noted in Weintraub’s letter, Section 304 of the Pennsylvania Crimes Code (Title 18) states that a person has a defense to a criminal charge if he makes a mistake as a matter of fact for which there is a reasonable explanation or excuse.

Investigation of the incident further revealed the officer wore his Taser on his right side, in front of his firearm, in violation of police department policies. Policy dictates officers should wear their Tasers on their non-dominant side, in what is known as a cross-draw position.

This violation of policy, however, does not constitute a violation of law.

In reviewing the totality of the circumstances, Weintraub also considered the officer's decades of exemplary service to the citizens of New Hope as evidenced by dozens of commendations and letters, as compared to relatively few minor historical infractions on his service record.

Video of the incident may be released upon request. Reporters seeking comment from District Attorney Weintraub should contact the DA’s Office using the information below.

This investigation is considered closed and the matter concluded.

Contact: James O’Malley, 215.348.6298, jtomalley@buckscounty.org

Criminal charges are allegations subject to proof in court. Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.