Shooting Someone by Mistake

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In 1999, four officers from the New York Police Department’s Street Crimes Unit confronted a man in the alcove of an apartment building late one night. The man, obviously distressed at the fact that four police officers were confronting him, retreated into the alcove. As the officers approached, the man reached into his pocket and pulled out a black object, holding it up at the officers as they walked up. The officers, perceiving that they were about to be shot, drew their guns and fired a total of 41 shots at the man, killing him.

As the officers approached the man, now laying on the stoop in the alcove, one officer yelled out “Where’s the [expletive] gun!” Instead of a gun in the man’s hand, he held a black wallet.

To make things worse, the man that was shot was a young African-American immigrant that spoke limited English and was a resident of the apartment building. All four officers were White. This incident sparked a national firestorm and public outcry for justice. The four officers were charged with second-degree murder, and their case went to trial.

At the trial, the evidence showed this was truly an accidental shooting. The alcove was dark, and the area was known for drug dealing and other criminal activity. The man acted in a way consistent with someone that did not want to be contacted by the police, although in hindsight, it was likely a cultural miscommunication. The man pulled a dark-colored object and pointed it at the police, and the officers truly believed he had a gun and was about to shoot them. In the end, the officers were all acquitted. The City of New York settled a subsequent civil lawsuit for $3 million.

This was a tragic story and one that happens from time to time. Police officers are put in positions where they must make split-second decisions in fast-moving and dynamic situations. Because we are all human, we can make mistakes.

Just because a police officer accidentally shoots someone does not mean they are headed for jail or that their life is over. An officer needs guidance from an attorney to help navigate the legal process that will occur, from the initial investigation to a potential trial.

As this story shows, just because a police officer accidentally shoots an unarmed person does not mean the end for these officers. This may be one of the most difficult positions an officer will ever find themselves. If you are that officer, you need an attorney that can stand by your side and help you through this difficult time.

Front Line Law was created by attorneys that have seen these situations firsthand. All of our attorneys come from previous careers in prosecution, law enforcement, and military. Our attorneys are skilled in every aspect of the investigation through trial. We stand ready to help.

If you ever find yourself in a situation like the officers in New York, your first call should be to Front Line Law. We will help you navigate the process from the investigation through a trial, if necessary. We will stand by you and will work tirelessly to protect you through the uncertainty that lays ahead.

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