Legal Issues

by Tim Cushing


Filed Under:
assault, nyc, nypd, pedestrians



Unarmed Man Charged With Assault Because NYC Police Shot At Him And Hit Random Pedestrians

from the NYPD:-Times-Square-is-the-hottest-third-person-shooter-on-the-market dept

Stop me if you've heard this one:

An emotionally disturbed but unarmed man walks into heavy traffic near Times Square. Police officers arrive on the scene and try to apprehend him. The unarmed man reaches into his pocket, prompting police to open fire in a crowded area. Man is unwounded but two bystanders are shot.

I don't really remember the middle part of this joke but the punchline is this:

An unarmed, emotionally disturbed man shot at by the police as he was lurching around traffic near Times Square in September has been charged with assault, on the theory that he was responsible for bullet wounds suffered by two bystanders, according to an indictment unsealed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan on Wednesday.
While you're letting that sink in, here are some more details.
Initially Mr. Broadnax was arrested on misdemeanor charges of menacing, drug possession and resisting arrest. But the Manhattan district attorney’s office persuaded a grand jury to charge Mr. Broadnax with assault, a felony carrying a maximum sentence of 25 years. Specifically, the nine-count indictment unsealed on Wednesday said Mr. Broadnax “recklessly engaged in conduct which created a grave risk of death.”

“The defendant is the one that created the situation that injured innocent bystanders,” said an assistant district attorney, Shannon Lucey.
Here are some more details from the original coverage of the incident.
The police arrived and the crowd grew. The hulking man continued on, ignoring the officers’ commands while eluding capture. Then the man reached into his pants pocket, withdrawing his hand as if it were a gun, the police said, and pretended to shoot at some of the officers.
As Scott Greenfield points out, this descriptive wording is a prime example of Creative Writing 101 (Law Enforcement Edition).
Note the language of the article. “Hulking” man. “Withdrawing his hand as if it were a gun.” These aren’t the words of a news account, but the language of justification and excuses.
Broadnax didn't even have a gun, as officers plainly saw before opening fire. He had a Metrocard in his hand, and no matter how hulkingly he pointed it at officers, it still didn't turn into a weapon capable of wounding other people. His weaving around in traffic was potentially dangerous, but more to himself than others.

Returning once again to the "language of justification and excuses" deployed by the DA's office: someone wandering around in traffic in New York City is hardly creating a "grave risk of death." NYC has plenty of pedestrian traffic, not all of which crosses only at the corners. The man certainly created a "disturbance" but the shots fired by the responding officers created the only injuries. And yet, it will be the man shot at (and missed) who will pay for the mistakes of the officers.

The narrative being pushed (back at the time of the incident and again by the DA's office) is that the officers had no choice but to risk firing shots in a crowded area because the man wouldn't cooperate (and menaced officers with a Metrocard). But recordings of the incident suggest the cops actually had many more options are their disposal.
There are no doubt times when shots must be fired, and there are no doubt times when a bullet will strike a bystander despite the best, and most competent, efforts of police. But the video of this, taken by a bystander who was not shot, shows a great many cops in the area before the two cops shot at Broadnax, and makes it difficult to understand why the newspapers don’t question why all those cops couldn’t manage to take down one big crazy guy without shooting up the bystanders.
The video Scott Greenfield posted back in September no longer exists. But this video shows a swarm of NYPD officers attempting to apprehend Broadnax before the shots are fired.

Broadnax was finally subdued by a single officer with a Taser but not before two pedestrians had been shot in an effort to ensure their safety. Holding the arrestee responsible for the bad decisions (and worse aim) of two cops basically sends the message to officers that irresponsible gun usage is perfectly fine, as long as the intentions are pure. If in the future officers hit other bystanders by firing in crowded areas (as they have in the past), the blame will be passed along to the intended target for "forcing" the police to make unwise decisions.

[Postscript: Ken White at Popehat has more thoughts on the NYPD's resemblance to Ike "Don't Make Me Hit You" Turner.]


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  1. icon
    DudeWasHere (profile), 21 Feb 2014 @ 5:26am

    Re:

    And this is why you should not be a police officer. You obviously do not have the discipline or control to handle the job as required. Not everyone does, and there are those individual police officers who deal with these risks every day, living with the risks. Not taking the shot unless absolutely necessary. They are the ones we do not hear about. They are the ones we need.

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