Over the weekend, word spread that the nine wounded bystanders at the Empire State Building shooting were victims of friendly fire from police officers. The shooter, Jeffrey T. Johnson, didn’t get a single shot off after he pointed his gun at the two pursuing officers, reports the New York Times.
Immediately, the thought in many peoples’ minds was how could the cops be so careless?
Let's toss that notion aside right now. An unpredictable gunman had just murdered a former co-worker. He had now turned his gun on the police. It seems like a clear act of suicide by cop. The two responding officers had no way of knowing whether the man was out for a single revenge or a mass murder. Either way, the gun was now turned on them.
The cops can't, and shouldn't just take a bullet or six by a gunman. They had to, and did, fire first. According to The Associated Press, one officer fired seven times, the other fired nine times. This wasn't a case where they fired 120 bullets at a single man, or stopped and reloaded. They responded in a heartbeat with a few bullets each.
Three of the sixteen bullets hit bystanders. Two were hit in the leg; one was hit in the buttocks. The rest were hit by ricochet fire and the resulting bullet-shrapnel. No bystander injuries were fatal. The shooter was hit ten times.
This is the question when it comes to any possible liability: did they act with any less care than the reasonable officer would have in such a situation?
Of course, the lawyers for the injured will argue that the officers should have been more accurate shots, or waited until the bystanders had all cleared out.
Lawyers for the officers will argue that their accuracy was pretty decent for two under-duress officers responding to a shooting in a crowded tourist area. They fired as many bullets as was necessary to protect themselves and subdue the suspect.
Both sides have a credible argument, which means there isn't a clear answer one way or the other. In order for the bystanders to prevail in court, they'd have to show that it was more likely than not (think 50% +1) that the officers were negligent. More likely, the cases will probably settle for a reduced amount. Some experts are predicting amounts in the six-figure range.
- Consult a New York Personal Injury Attorney (FindLaw)
- Judge Raffaele, Is It Time To Reconsider an Excessive Force Lawsuit? (FindLaw's New York Personal Injury Law Blog)
- NYC's Stop and Frisk Defense Expert Not An Expert (FindLaw's New York Personal Injury Law Blog)
- NYPD Faces More than Politics After Excessive Force Against City Official (FindLaw's New York Personal Injury Law Blog)