Police bullets injured 9 in New York


The encounter is breathtakingly brief: A surveillance video shows a gunman outside the Empire State Building on Friday pulling a pistol, his pointing it at two police officers, their firing at him and his falling to the sidewalk.

All the yelling and cries of pain occurred out of camera view, just north of where the gunman, Jeffrey T Johnson, collapsed and died: Nine bystanders were struck, cradling bloody arms or laying on the sidewalks and curbs.

New York police commissioner Raymond W Kelly confirmed yesterday that all nine were wounded by police bullets, bullet fragments or shrapnel from ricochets.

Commissioner Kelly also confirmed that the shooter, Johnson, never fired another shot after killing a former co-worker, Steven Ercolino, moments earlier.

"We had a witness that said that Johnson fired at the police," the commissioner said. "But the final count of the shells, it appears that that is not the case.

"It was the second time in two weeks that police officers fired numerous shots on the

crowded streets of Manhattan - 28 shots fired between the two incidents - and with it, once again were questions of police protocol in urban settings.

In the first incident, no bystanders were struck when officers fired 12 shots at a man with a knife just below Times Square.

The nanosecond speed at which a shooting plays out is followed by hours of analysis and second-guessing and study.

There is no national data on how often bystanders are struck by police bullets; Geoffrey P Alpert, a criminologist at the University of South Carolina and an expert on police uses of force, said hitting innocent civilians "doesn't happen very often, but it happens."

He added: "The rule of thumb is that you do not put civilians in the line of fire, but the rule of thumb is also that you don't let a murderer get away.

"In many police shootings, stray shots are almost inevitable; a study based on New York's annual firearms discharge reports indicated that officers hit their targets 34 per cent of the time.

"It's a tense situation, people are scared and moving," Alpert said. "It's not like the movies where you can shoot the gun out of his hand.

"In New York, the Police Department does include such incidents in its firearms discharge report.

In 2010, for example, the police shot three bystanders in a shootout with a gunman; the year before, one bystander was struck when an officer struggled with a suspect who was trying to take his gun, and the gun fired.

In the shooting in Midtown, the commissioner said Friday the two officers "had absolutely no choice." In Johnson's bag, officers found a magazine loaded with six rounds, the police said.

The courts tend to come down on the side of officers in lawsuits brought from bystanders injured by police bullets.

Nonetheless, the city has paid out six- and seven-figure settlements to bystanders in settlements.

New York Times