Police: Bystander comes to aid of police officer put in chokehold by man during mall struggle

Police say the man refused to leave, took a fighting stance and during a struggle put a chokehold on the officer.

Beccah Hendrickson Image
Monday, May 22, 2023 9:45PM
Police: Bystander helps NJ police officer put in chokehold
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A man put a police officer in a chokehold before a bystander came to his aid during a struggle at a Gloucester County mall, police said.

DEPTFORD, New Jersey (WPVI) -- A high school English teacher is being credited with saving the life of a South Jersey police officer who was being choked out by a suspect during an altercation at the Deptford Township Mall.

Police say the incident happened around 7:30 p.m. Friday. Deptford Township Police had been asked to respond to an unruly man at the mall who was refusing to leave.

A uniformed officer found the man on the second floor of the mall and asked him to leave multiple times but he refused to do so and "allegedly became confrontational," eventually taking a fighting stance, police said.

As the officer tried to arrest the suspect, 43-year-old Michael Carberry, on defiant trespass and disorderly conduct charges, a struggle ensued during which Carberry was able to put a chokehold on the officer, "effectively cutting off" his blood and oxygen supply, police said.

"I had seen it escalating as I was going into the store. I heard a loud bang and I asked the manager to watch my two children," said Robert Fitzpatrick, who teaches at Penns Grove High School.

"There were other folks that were there at that time and they took their cellphones out and recorded the incident. This guy didn't. He became involved," said Detective Sergeant Robert Jones.

He said Officer Gatto had a bloody lip and the blood vessels in his eyes were busted, but this could have been worse if not for Fitzpatrick, who says his background in jujutsu helped him wrestle the suspect away.

"I was able to apply a choke and take him to the ground and flatten him out," said Fitzpatrick, who also helped de-escalate the situation.

"Loosening enough to be able to communicate with him. I talked to him, I explained to him I'm a father of three, I'm going home to my boys."

Going home was the goal for both Fitzpatrick and Officer Gatto, as the township's police department continues to deal with the death of Officer Bobby Shisler.

"This incident occurred two days after we had a funeral service for one of our patrol officers and that's, the Deptford Township Police force, that's the first time we ever experienced that," said Jones.

Now police are calling Fitzpatrick a hero for helping to save the life of one of their officers.

"Even the suspect, he walks away and he deals with justice and the courts. The officer goes home to his family. It feels like all around the board, that's a win for everybody," said Fitzpatrick.

Police say Carberry is facing numerous charges, including attempted homicide of a police officer and aggravated assault.