Reports now indicate that all nine wounded bystanders in the recent shooting near the Empire State building were shot not by the gunman, Jeffrey Johnson, 58, (left) but by police officers.
Witnessed have complained that officers appeared to fire “randomly” in the confrontation, but the NYPD insists that the officers acted appropriately in facing the gunman. Johnson began the shooting by walking up to his former boss at Hazan Imports, Steve Ercolino, 41, (right above) and shooting him three times.
Victim Robert Asika said that the officers appeared to be spraying shots and that he saw at least two other people hit by officers.
NYPD Commissioner Kelly said that Johnson drew his .45 caliber handgun as the officers approached. The officers proceeded to fire 16 rounds, but Kelly insisted that “These officers … had absolutely no choice.” Johnson never fired at the officers.
There has been a long controversy over the switch of police officers to automatic or semi-automatic weapons with the capability if firing dozens of bullets in a clip. Critics have charged that the rate of fire has increased due to the switch with rising numbers of bystander injuries.
The question is whether someone like Asika could sue. Courts generally treat such shootings as covered by immunity rules and thus insulated from civil liability. The wounded could claim negligence in the use of lethal force by the department, but the police tend to get a great deal of deference in facing a deadly threat, particularly with someone who has already killed an individual.
The most notable case was that of Ruby Ridge, Idaho. In 1992, police sought to arrest Randy Weaver. The confrontation resulted in the death of Weaver’s son Sammy, his wife Vicki, their family dog Striker, and Deputy US Marshal William Francis Degan. The surviving family members sued and secured a settlement of $100,000 for Randy Weaver and $1 million for each of the daughters. Twelve agents were later disciplined and both the investigation and prosecution of the Weavers were criticized by officials like FBI director Louis Freeh. FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi was indicted for manslaughter in 1997 by the Boundary County, Idaho prosecutor but it was later transferred to federal courts and dismissed on the basis of sovereign immunity.