NY Cops May Have Killed Bystander With One of 71 Stray Bullets

In another example of appalling marksmanship by members of law enforcement, it appears that a bystander who was killed during one of the 52 shooting events that occurred in New York City over the weekend was probably killed by a stray round fired by an NYPD officer. This, in and of itself, isn’t terribly surprising given the population density of the five boroughs. What is notable is that, as nytimes.com reports, eight officers firing 73 bullets at one shooter managed to hit him only twice…

The shooting on Monday erupted just after 9 p.m., when, the police said, Leroy Webster, 32, opened fire on Mr. Johnson, 29, in a dispute that escalated after an earlier confrontation the men had on Park Place, blocks away from the path of the West Indian Day Parade.

As Mr. Webster fired several shots, the police said, Mr. Johnson was struck in the neck and fell mortally wounded.

Several officers confronted Mr. Webster, who officials said ignored their orders and fired at them. Eight officers returned fire — in two distinct volleys — firing 73 bullets and striking Mr. Webster twice, in his chest and hip.

With 71 stray rounds careening through Crown Heights on a holiday evening, it’s a wonder only one innocent person was struck. It’s been determined the bullet that killed Denise Gay was not fired by the shooter’s gun. The NYPD has been less than definitive about what gun the bullet was fired from.

Asked if a bullet fired by a police officer could have been the fatal shot, Paul J. Browne, the Police Department’s chief spokesman, said it could have been. “Was it one of the officers’ Glocks? Possibly,” he said. “Was it from the gun witnesses said Mr. Johnson had, but has not been recovered? Possibly.”

The ballistics tests determined that the bullet that killed Ms. Gay, from a 9-millimeter gun, had markings consistent with those made by seven manufacturers’ guns, including Glock.

It was doubtful whether the source of the shot that killed Ms. Gay would definitively be determined, even by comparing the slug to those from the Glocks fired by two officers, the police said, because of the generic markings the lead slug picked up as it passed through the gun’s barrel. Also, the round retrieved from Ms. Gay’s body was deformed.

But somehow it was possible to eliminate the shooter’s gun as the source. Odds that the final ballistics report will be ‘inconclusive’: 80%.

As we’ve said so many times before, it’s not easy being a cop. Not at all. No one expects someone returning fire at an active shooter to be perfect. Not with contributing factors such as fading light, adrenaline, a possibly moving target, etc. But a hit rate of less than 3%? Is firearms proficiency even a criterion to be one of New York’s Finest?

This sounds like the cops’ philosophy, rather than making every shot count, is more along the lines of spray and pray. That may work when you’re out in the middle of nowhere. But a shower of lead in a densely populated city is a recipe for disaster.

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43 Responses to NY Cops May Have Killed Bystander With One of 71 Stray Bullets

  1. avatarmatt says:

    Its not easy being a cop? How so? What private sector job comes with a pension, a union, and qualified immunity from the law that almost always translates to absolute immunity?

    Don’t think they’re a bunch of cowards? Check out this article, the Chicago police are scared of homeless people being allowed in to the lobby of the stations to shelter themselves from weather.

    “Also, says Chicago FOP spokesman Pat Camden, the homeless people who come to the police stations could be violent.”
    http://chicago.cbslocal.com/2011/09/07/officers-police-stations-shouldnt-be-homeless-shelters/

    I used to work in the loop (downtown chicago) in a large building, there was regularly homeless people in the lobby of the building. I never saw them attack anyone and we arent allowed to carry.

    If you want to see what the CPD really think read the comments on this cop blog.
    http://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=13350456&postID=8727296951306975374

    • avatarMuggins says:

      You can begudge their pensions and pay, but they meet the dregs of society day after day, who give them crap, and anti-authoritarians, who are invariably critical, and the hierarchy back at the precinct is highly political. They have to face potentially violent situations, with tempers and emotions flaring, and keep their cool. And sometimes, they have to put their lives at risk in combat. The armchair author can count the spent cartridge cases after the fact, and think it’s problem with accuracy, but I don’t see these critics taking up guns and going to a gun fight. Battle conditions are different than the firing ranges.

      • avatarmominVA says:

        “The armchair author can count the spent cartridge cases after the fact, and think it’s problem with accuracy, but I don’t see these critics taking up guns and going to a gun fight”.

        Because in NYC they aren’t allowed to, so thank goodness the police are there to “protect” them, right?

        • avatarMuggins says:

          You’ll find that no city on this planet allows journalists to take up arms when there’s a gunfight between the cops and criminals. Why do you think we pay cops? To do our fighting for us. You have a different plan? Y’know, you could always join the police force and show the world how easy a job it is.

        • avatarmominVA says:

          Not getting it muggins…. A “critic” in this case is someone who is critical of this police action, yes? And if that critic, journalist or otherwise law-abiding citizen, happens to live in NYC, with some of the most restictive gun laws around (notice how actual criminals still manage to obtain them though), they cannot avail themselves of the option of protecting themselves. These “critics” are left to hope not only that the cops get there in time, but also that they shoot the right mope. The first often fails to happen and apparently the second one is iffy as well. Your point seems to be ( and please correct me if I’m wrong) that it’s not fair to criticize when we aren’t willing to do the difficult job ourselves. And my point is that many people ARE willing to do the job of protecting their families themselves, they just aren’t allowed to. And then they get shot by the cops. Epic fail all around.

  2. avatarRalph says:

    As badly as NYC cops shoot, I’m suprised that the Five Boros are still crowded. The NYPD should have thinned out the herd by now.

    New York cops are still required to shoot Glocks equipped with the 11 lb. “New York” trigger. It’s even worse than the atrocious 10 lb. Massachusetts trigger that anyone in the Kommonwealth gets rid of as soon as possible. The New York trigger is heavier, stacks like a forklift operator and generally turns a nice Glock into a piece of sh!t.

  3. avatardrus says:

    Wait, “It was doubtful whether the source of the shot that killed Ms. Gay would definitively be determined, even by comparing the slug to those from the Glocks fired by two officers, the police said, because of the generic markings the lead slug picked up as it passed through the gun’s barrel. Also, the round retrieved from Ms. Gay’s body was deformed.”

    So if I have at least two of the exact same weapons, we cannot tell conclusively which weapon fired it? Why do we trust ballistics tests then? This must be a defense lawyer’s field day, unless I am completely missing something.

    • avatarHSR47 says:

      It seems to me that the police use the art of forensics as a dog and pony show — it’s an excuse to trot out some geek with an impressive-sounding title to pile a lot of “scientific” “evidence” on they pyre.

      http://www.makemymood.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/csizoom.jpg

    • avatarThomasD says:

      Presumably the cops were all shooting department issue ammo, so perhaps the crime lab could compare the jacket material for consistency with department issue stuff.

      That is, having ruled out the criminal, and assuming they care to know the truth.

      • with a mass spectroscope, they could match the bullets by batch of copper jacket and batch of lead filler. It’s a pretty safe bet they don’t want to — they know their panicked, eyes-closed, random gunfire slew that lady, and they’re intent on plausible deniability.

        You read it here first: when the attorney for her estate wants to get the bullets for independent testing including spectrometry, they will have been misplaced. Unexpectedly, of course.

  4. avatarTim McNabb says:

    I was wondering about the effect on accuracy of an extra heavy trigger pull. I would think that the extra effort required to jerk the trigger (and jerking is what combatants do, I presume) would put a lot of rounds in the dirt.

    I tend to laugh at how terrible TV shooters are at marksmanship – but it appears to be true.

    • avatarDaverino says:

      This is an excellent point; and one which I think worthy of this blog investigating.

      The NYPD has special requirements for the trigger pull weight of their firearms, which is basically much harder to pull than that of the stock Glock configuration. And the NYPD is also famous for these types of ‘high round count and few hits’ shootings.

      I wonder if a simple test could be devised to examine the possibility of the NYC spec trigger weight being a detriment to accuracy. It would also be enlightening if a study of previous NYC shootings could be cross compared with national data. I would not be surprised if NYC showed a marked increase in rounds per shooting and in unintended victims of errant police rounds.

  5. avatarTM says:

    Wonder if carrying rifles/small arms would improve accuracy rates. I can’t anything at 10 meters with a 9mm (fading eyesight…)

  6. avatarFrank says:

    Go back to revolvers.

  7. avatarjohnny says:

    Two thoughts: As a military man, those numbers (73 shots, 2 hits) are fine for a combat situation. Bullets are cheap, lives expensive. Suppressing fire is used liberally so the bad guy can’t aim back.

    Current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, however, have restrictive rules of engagement designed to reduce collateral fatalities and injuries. So your ability to fire away depends on who and what is around the target.

    It would be interesting to compare current rules of engagement in Kabul and Baghdad for the US military to the NYPD in Crown Heights.

    I would not be surprised if the NYPD has looser rules.

  8. avatarDADvocate says:

    Can I go up against one of these quys in a Top Shot competition?

  9. avatarsubmandave says:

    Amazing. That’s over 9 rounds per officer. I wonder how the geometry contributed to this incident. Was there cover that contributed to the misses? If the shooter was, for example, firing from behind a vehicle it is entirely possible that many shots were close on target, but just not close enough to get a hit. The article says there were two distinct volleys, so one possibility could be one exchange upon initial contact, whereupon the shooter achieves cover, and the second when he partially exposed himself to take another shot. Even in this sort of scenario, it does seem like an excessive amount of hard metal flying very fast in a populated zone.

  10. avatarbill says:

    Ten weeks of training and any alcoholic idiot with a John Wayne complex and anger management issues can become a pistol packing peace officer. No wonder their performance and integrity are so poor…vetting. Even the military has higher entrance standards.

    • avatarDave says:

      I can’t help but think Bill is bringing some serious baggage to the discussion. I don’t believe he thinks much of the military either: “Even the military has higher entrance standards.”

  11. avatarFrank Natoli says:

    Glocks have octogonal not rifled barrels and are well known for firing bullets that defy tracing.

    NYPD Street Crimes Unit, “We Own The Night”, disbanded after the Amadou Diallo incident, hit him with 19 of 41 shots fired. That kind of training and marksmanship is no longer required of NYPD.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amadou_Diallo_shooting

  12. avatarRex says:

    Only hits count. That suppressive fire BS is an excuse for not training marksmen.

  13. avatarBlack Sabbath says:

    So we’re going to ignore the guy who started the whole gunfight and blame the cops who had to shoot back. If this man had not started shooting in the first place – a criminal act – this never would have happened. He, not the police, are ultimately to blame.

    • avatarThomasD says:

      I don’t see anyone here making that argument. I do see people being critical of the appalling lack of marksmanship on display, and some possible disinterest on the part of the NYPD to positively identify the source of the fatal round.

      But you do bring up a valid point. It is possible that the fatal shot was a ricochet – something that can occur even after the projectile has passed through it’s intended target, or affect someone who might otherwise be thought safely ‘out of the line of fire.’ Even if the bullet came from someone other than the criminal he is the one who bears legal responsibility – he committed a felony and someone died as a direct result of that act.

  14. avatarMr. Browser says:

    totally OT – do you realize that this comment box is unusable in firefox? There’s a script running that prevents you from typing in it.

  15. avatarleftbrainfemale says:

    Okay, dude – I mean, they may have “gun control” in NYC – but clearly, they don’t have GUN CONTROL!

  16. avatarDavid W. Nicholas says:

    I’ve often wondered about the wisdom of this. When police departments began to switch from revolvers to automatics, you went from someone carrying a .38 revolver with six chambers (and most carried the gun with the chamber under the hammer unloaded, for safety purposes) to an automatic of some sort with a magazine capacity of more than double that. The problem is, when there’s a confrontation, the instinct is to empty your gun at the threat. If you give someone a gun with 5-6 shots, he’ll fire 5-6 shots, probably not reload (the incident will be over) and that’s that. Give the same guy an automatic (easier to reload than a revolver) with a capacity of say 13-18 rounds, and he’ll fire them, and then reload if the target isn’t down yet. This means there are a lot more bullets flying around.

    Out here in California, I can remember an incident probably close to 30 years ago now, at one of our institutions of “higher learning”, Cal State Long Beach. A guy got thrown out of the school for bad grades, and appealed unsuccessfully to the dean of students. He left, came back with a gun, and shot at the dean’s office from outside. The campus police chased him, shot at him without hitting, and eventually took him into custody. The next day the campus newspaper’s headline told everything, from how many officers fired at the guy (by doing the math) to the campus P.D.’s answer to the charge of them shooting too much: “36 Warning shots!!!” Obviously, they weren’t very good marksmen then, either, but they didn’t fire as often at the bad guy as these New York cops did.

    • avatarsubmandave says:

      When I was at Vanderbilt in mid-’80s there was a problem with a fellow who was robbing students at gunpoint, so security put some plain-clothes officers out. Sure enough, he had the bad judgement to draw on one. Goblin shot six, missed six; campus security shot six, hit six (four in a five-inch grouping). No more problem.

  17. avatarwillis says:

    I was so relieved no one was filming the police. I suspect their accuracy would have improved instantly to expert marksman…only they would not have been gunning for the shooter.

  18. avatardon says:

    It just goes to show that professional or rookie, there is an inverse relationship between pulse rate and gun control; the higher the pulse rate, the less bullet accuracy.

  19. avatarMHJ says:

    It’s not the trigger or even marksmanship, it’s the contemporary training doctrine. This is how police are trained to respond. They’re basically told that they should just keep shooting rapidly until the threat is over. But then they’re not given any real training on how to accomplish that in a controlled manner. And this is the result. Its been the same all over the country.

    • avatarJD says:

      Interesting. I was wondering too, if this is perhaps caused by less ongoing marksmanship training at police departments? Budget cuts?…because I know I’ve read stories about the Army cutting back on annual ammunition amounts used for training precisely due to cost-cutting. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the same for municipal police depts.

  20. avatarAlec Rawls says:

    The police spokesman called the rifling marks “generic”? The generic barrel supposedly wiped out what would have been unique marks from, what, the chamber?

    As EVERYBODY knows, it is the rifling that imprints unique marks that can often determine which gun fired a particular bullet. To pretend that the rifling wiped out the unique marks and overwrote them with generic ones cannot just be ignorance or stupidity. It has to be a conscious lie. Maybe an offhand one, an evasion of the moment, but clearly a lie:

    “It was doubtful whether the source of the shot that killed Ms. Gay would definitively be determined, even by comparing the slug to those from the Glocks fired by two officers, the police said, because of the generic markings the lead slug picked up as it passed through the gun’s barrel.”

    • avatarLou Gots says:

      What you say is true of cut rifling, not of hammer-forged rifling, such as is found on the Glock.

      You have misinterpreted the somewhat inartful quotation you cite. It does not say that anything was “wiped,” but that the barrel markings on the subject bullet were “generic,” that is, generic to a lot of hammer-forged Glock barrels made with the same mandril.

  21. avatarRobert Langham says:

    You can’t idiot-proof a gun. I know it sounds awful and troublesome but they actually have to TRAIN their idiots.

  22. avatarJingo says:

    H. Paul Jeffers’ excellent “Commissioner Roosevelt” chronicles Theodore Roosevelt’s two years as an NYC police commissioner (1895-1897). The four-man commission, under his leadership established the first pistol training at the School of Pistol Practice.

    TR: “The importance of having officers…who must at all times when on duty have about their person a loaded revolver, thoroughly instructed in the use and care of their arm, cannot be questioned. Numerous accidents on record in this department from careless handling of revolvers, and the not infrequent injury to innocent persons in the public streets, emphasize the importance of this instruction, while, upon the other hand, when it becomes necessary for an officer to protect his own life, or to apprehend a dangerous criminal, HE MUST NOT ONLY BE ABLE TO SHOOT PROMPTLY BUT TO SHOOT WELL.” (emphasis mine)

    I suspect there is a lot more time nowadays in the NYPD devoted to sensitivity training than to pistol training.

  23. avatarGeorge Dillworth says:

    According to
    FYI…..
    “GLOCK TRIGGER SPRING
    The optional GLOCK „New York“ trigger springs produce revolver-like trigger action, facilitating the acclimation from traditional revolvers to semi-automatics.
    STANDARD All GLOCK pistols are delivered with a standard trigger spring from the factory. It guarantees constant trigger pull resistance over the entire trigger travel.

    N.Y.1 The GLOCK „New York“ trigger has its name from the New York Police Department. It facilitates officers changing from revolvers to pistols. Increases trigger pull weight from 2,5 kg / 5.5 lb. to 4,9 kg / 11 lb.”

    The action of the officers in this unfortunate event has a name…”spray and pray”…… real amateur stuff. This gets people killed…including officers. It is what untrained , out of control, people with no handgun training usually do when in a gun battle.

    There are other ways to identify a spent slug besides from rifling grooves. NYPD are issued duty ammo…..Speer 124 +P GD. If they pull that out of the dead civilian…. and the criminal was shooting something else it’ll be obvious what happened…..as if the amount of rounds expended by the police versus the criminal do not already lead one towards the likelihood of a stray police bullet killing Ms Gay………really all but two were stray.

    “Generic markings”….. is that a joke. If a police officer was shot there would be no stopping the identification of the gun the bullet came from. Take that to the bank.

    The Times article sets us up to expect the self protective blue wall of resistance to the truth in the usual effort to evade responsibility for their actions.

    • avatarLou Gots says:

      Glocks have hammer-forged barrels. These do not have the unique tool marks common to cut rifling barrels. Some departments using Glocks have ordered special cut-rifled barrels just for the purpose of defeating the anonymity of bullets fired from Glocks. Generic hammer-forged Glock barrels do not leave tool-marks on fired bullets.

      Be on the lookout for “consistent with” expert testimony in cases involving Glocks. The expert will try to make the jury think that the subject bullet has been identified to a particular gun, while all he is saying is that the marks on the bullet are consistent with that gun and thousands, possible tens of thousand, of guns like it.

  24. avatarhydtguy says:

    the nypd trigger (12 to13lbs) is only to try to stop the city from sued every day. Yes nypd guns all have that trigger and unless you practice often…..you have a BIG tendincy to pull hard on the trigger and your rounds tend to go low or to the left. how low?how far left? lets just say my kids a cop in Brooklyn. I brought a cpl of them to a range and we shot about 200rnds with my pistols, XD.40, XD.45 and a Kimber 1911 .45. with a standard trigger pull her buddy shot a group about 4 in. di. I have a bit of expereance with pistols and it is known that UNDER FIRE, your lucky to shoot half as good as you would at the range. The city cops have the handicap of .9mm handguns that dont have great stoping power andthe trigger pull is just bad add the fact that the ciyt will jam you up with any error, one can only think about the pressure.

    All said, how many of you have ever shot a pistol? its not like TV, its a close range tool. even with practice (I shoot 2 pistol matches a month, around 400 to 500 rnds.) I am happy to be an average competitive shooter. I can tell you all when someone is shooting at you most of the skills go out the window. As per NYS and NYC law you cant even touch a pistol till your 21. its sad that the skills needed to be a LEO are in short supply and the NYPD training is about a week and a half.

  25. avatarTJ says:

    The NY trigger in the Glock used by NYPD is an equipment solution to a training problem. NY is unwilling to spend the time, effort, and money retraining their officers to shoot semi-autos with lighter triggers, so they had Glock design and install a trigger that mimics the heavy trigger weight of the revolvers they used to carry. They were trained to go finger on trigger right out of the holster using the heavy weight of the double action trigger as a “safety”. It’s all in the name of avoiding liability.

    Can targets be hit consistently and accurately with heavy trigger press weights? Yes, but it takes more trigger time and training, which is what NY wants to avoid. So, inaccuracy will continue to be an issue. I’m an instructor at the country’s largest firearms training facility in Nevada (I’ll leave it to you to figure out who it is). I see cops come in from all across the country, including NYPD. Regardless of the training we give them, they will default to “fight how you train” and the training that has more reps wins, in other words, their police academy training. Most are trained to fire volleys of three or four rounds or to shoot until the adversary goes down. I see it over and over again in simulator sessions. The training we have just given them over the preceding day or two goes right out the window.

    Train how you fight, fight how you train. Avoid “equipment solutions to training problems” and “solutions to non-existent problems.” Also guys, spray and pray in an encounter between police and criminal with innocent bystanders around IS NOT AN OPTION! Suppressive fire is for the battlefield, not the street. We’re talking about a single adversary here, not fighting a war.

  26. avatarUSMC Limey says:

    Alot of good points about determining who fired the stray bullet. My personal advice is that the NYPD itself (not the officers) needs to take responsibility. If 8 officers fire 9 rounds each and only 2 rounds hit the intended target then clearly there is an institutional issue here. No officer should be able to carry a firearm unless they can consistantly put 3 rounds in a 6″ group at 7 yards under pressure. If you can’t do it, all you get is a rape whistle and you get partnered with somebody that did qualify with their weapon to protect you.

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