There was confusion about what had happened when it was first reported, but it’s clear now. The two police officers who shot and killed a gunman near the Empire State Building also wounded nine bystanders in the melee, authorities said at a Saturday press conference.
Officers Craig Matthews and Robert Sinishtaj confronted 58-year-old Jeffrey Johnson on Fifth Avenue, right after Johnson, a designer of women’s accessories, had murdered a former co-worker at the Hazan Import Co.
As Johnson was pulling out his .45-caliber pistol in response to the police pursuit, from a distance of approximately 10 feet the two officers fired a total of 16 rounds at Johnson, at least 7 of which hit him, according to the NYPD’s chief spokesman Paul J. Browne.
As for the rounds that missed their target, three struck bystanders directly. Police believe that the remaining hit and ricocheted off nearby flowerpots, which also caused injuries to passersby on the congested Manhattan street.
Many of the wounds to bystanders were “mostly in the lower extremity areas, such as legs and ankles, which would be consistent with some of the ricochet fragmented ballistics we found,” Spokesman Browne explained.
One of the victims offered insight into the incident.
“One of the cops shot me in my arm,” a 23-year-old Robert Asika, told the NY Times as he was standing outside Bellevue Hospital Center.
Asika acknowledged that the officers “shot me probably trying to shoot him [Johnson].”
Yet, despite being shot, Asika said he could not “really get mad at the cops.” However, he wished that they were a little more discerning with their handguns.
“I get they were doing their job, but they have to be a little more careful when they are aiming the gun at the suspect and not hit the innocent victims,” he said.
Police are trained to use their discretion in dicey situations like the standoff with Johnson. And as per the Patrol Guide, officers are prohibited from firing their weapons if, “in their professional judgment, doing so will unnecessarily endanger innocent persons.”
According to Browne, the two officers had considered their surroundings before firing their weapons.
“They were approaching this man with a gun, and he turns on them, and he is eight feet away, pointing a gun right at them,” he said, implying, perhaps, that they were compelled to respond in the manner that they did given the circumstances.
Officers Craig Matthews and Robert Sinishtaj have been removed from patrol duty, standard protocol when an officer discharges a weapon, the NY Times reported.
(Photo Credit: NY Times)