On the morning of Friday, August 24, 2012, visitors to the Empire State Building were lining up to ascend the famous structure. The area was crowded, as usual, with tourists and office workers. There was nothing out of the ordinary until police began firing shots into the crowd. A total of 16 shots were fired.
Earlier, a disgruntled employee, armed with a handgun, had approached and killed a former co-worker. As he was fleeing the scene, he drew a handgun, and two pursuing police officers opened fire. In addition to killing the gunman, nine innocent pedestrians were hit by the officers’ shots.
As the victims from this police shooting have attempted to recover from the city for their injuries, they have found that the city and the police department are not receptive to making these victims whole.
Relying upon a 2010 New York Court of Appeals decision that held that the Police Department guidelines require officers to exercise professional judgment when they open fire around bystanders, the New York court ruled that police are not barred from discharging their weapons when innocent bystanders are present. They are prohibited from doing so only when it would “unnecessarily endanger innocent persons.” New York has grasped onto this language and has made a practice of refusing to settle cases where bystanders were injured or killed by police gunfire. Moreover, the city has tried to have these cases thrown out without a trial. Without a day in court, victims are left to wonder if the city is interested in ensuring that police making such judgment calls are giving what could be a life-or-death decision adequate weight. The city and the Police department have asserted that police officers’ decisions should be protected from excessive second-guessing, but should this protection go so far as to insulate police departments from decisions where deadly force is used and innocent civilians are injured or killed as a result?
Nine innocent persons shot by police. The concern is not excessive second-guessing, it is excessive shooting. The bystanders deserve their day in court.