Shooting in Manhattan: Police Shooting Spree? - Consumer Justice Foundation

Shooting in Manhattan: Police Shooting Spree?

Written by Faith Anderson on August 27, 2012
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Bullets Used by Police Prone to Ricochet and Shrapnel

Although the bystander injuries resulting from the Empire State shooting were called a “rare example of the drawbacks posed by so-called hollow-point bullets” by some media outlets, it doesn’t seem adequate or fair to consider nine innocent citizens being shot by police simply a “drawback.” Hollow-point bullets have become standard issue for many law enforcement agencies, including the NYPD and the FBI, replacing traditional bullets that can pass through a target, possibly hitting bystanders. Because hollow-point bullets are designed to mushroom when they strike a person, they rarely exit, which is considered to be safer for bystanders. Despite this potential benefit though, hollow-point bullets are more prone to ricochet or fragment when they hit a hard object, which can pose a serious hazard for innocent bystanders.

Potential Injury to Bystanders Called a “Tradeoff” to Stopping Gunman

In the case of the Empire State Building shooting, some of the hollow-point bullets fired by the NYPD struck the concrete planters located outside the tourist attraction, which are used as security barriers against terrorist attacks. The shrapnel created by the hollow bullets as they richocheted off the planters caused six of the nine injuries at the scene of the shooting, while the bullets fired by the two police officers themselves injured three more bystanders. According to former New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, in situations like the Manhattan shooting, stopping the attacker quickly is the primary goal. But at the expense of nine innocent bystanders? “As in all things with weapons and ammunition, there’s certain tradeoffs that you have to make,” Bratton said. What shouldn’t be sacrificed though, is the duty of police officers to “protect and serve,” particularly innocent citizens.

Police Fire 16 Shots at Close Range to Stop One Man

“The idea (of using hollow-point bullets) is to move quickly, to stop the threat,” Bratton said in a statement. “You can knock someone down with one or two rounds a lot of the time.” So why did the NYPD have to fire 16 shots then, to stop one man? This question is especially troubling because the hollow-point bullets are supposed to cause less collateral damage by causing massive injuries without exiting the target’s body. Instead, police officers Craig Matthews and Robert Sinishtaj, fired on Johnson at close range, seemingly hitting everything in sight except Johnson, including the concrete planters and even fleeing bystanders. Even though the gunman was barely moving, the two officers firing from 12-15 feet away or less didn’t seem to be able to take him down without putting the lives of innocent bystanders at risk. Three of the nine injured bystanders remain in the hospital, although none of the gunshot wounds appear to be life-threatening. The other six wounded bystanders were treated and released.

Lawsuits May be Filed By Injured Bystanders

The two police officers involved in the shooting will be assigned to administrative duty pending a review of the shooting, which is standard procedure when an officer discharges his weapon in the line of duty. As far as the bystanders are concerned, when citizens are injured by police bullets in cases such as this, the wounded victims often file suit against the police department or the city. Although some win large settlements, courts may rule in favor of the police department and grant them immunity from liability if the officers can show that the person they shot posed a threat. Because Johnson was waving a loaded gun at the police, which can be seen in surveillance footage, the court likely won’t rule in favor of the injured bystanders.

Posted Under: Editorial
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