Monday, August 27, 2012

1062 Bad Shot? So What?

1062 Bad Shot? So What?

Police officers Craig Matthews and Robert Sinishtaj are not going to win any marksmanship awards any time soon.  They're the officers who shot and killed a gunman in front of the Empire State Building.

But what they'll probably win for putting Jeffrey Johnson out of his and our misery is trial by public opinion and probably desk duty until the NYPD's glacial and assume-guilt internal affairs bureau finishes second guessing their decision to open fire in rush hour in front of one of the world's busiest and best known tourist attractions.

Johnson had killed his former supervisor Steven Ercolito on 33rd Street, rounded the corner of Fifth Avenue with his gun in a bag, pulled the gun and took aim.  Apparently he was felled before he got to pull the trigger. There were two bullets in the weapon.

Officers Matthews and Sinishtaj fired a lot of rounds.  Sixteen between them.  Five or seven or ten hit Johnson, depending who's telling the story and when.  Nine bystanders were wounded, three by actual bullets and six by flying debris. Unfortunate.  Sometimes unavoidable.  

Victim Ercolito has been elevated to the instant sainthood that often is visited upon the newly and violently dead by friends and relatives.

So, say you're a cop on a crowded and famous street and a guy pulls a gun, but not the trigger.  Not some newbie cop two days out of the academy and who doesn't need to shave... but a 15 year veteran of the force.  You're going to fire.  It's training.  It's reflex.  It's adrenaline.  Later, you will say you had to make an instantaneous judgment and wanted to save lives.  You'll remind people that you had no way of knowing how many bullets were in Johnson's handgun.

And many people will believe you.  But the number of people doesn't matter.  It only matters what IAB thinks and rules. 

What IAB will ultimately declare is that this is a good shooting by some bad shots.  A "good" shooting is police-speak for one that was proper and timed right.  But there will be some hoof-scraping and snorting about the injured.

Better to be wounded by a stray shot from a cop than killed by an aimed bullet by a killer with a .45 semi automatic in his hand.  Neither is a good result.  But one is better than the other.


--Neither cop had fired his weapon on duty before.  Many if not most cops never do.  No calls yet for "they should have used a Taser" or a tranquilizer dart, but someone's to make that kind of second guess.

--The two officers, one aged 39 and the other aged 40, will be eligible to retire after 20 years in, which will mean at ages 44 and 45.  That seems pretty young.  But a lot of cops do it because guys like Johnson can make you older than your years, and fast.

I'm Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you're welcome to them. (R)
Please address comments to
(C) WJR 2012

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