New York Police Sued Over Empire State Building Shootout

New York and its police department were sued by a North Carolina woman who said she was wounded by police responding to a shooting outside the Empire State Building in August.

Chenin Duclos of Chapel Hill was in a crosswalk between 34th Street and Fifth Avenue at about 9 a.m. on Aug. 24 when she was hit by a bullet from the gun of a New York police officer, according to her lawsuit.

Duclos was “frantically running to get away from the bedlam and hysteria that was unfolding on the street around her” when she was shot in the leg, according to the complaint filed today in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan. She is seeking unspecified damages.

A man fired from his job near the Empire State Building returned to his former workplace that morning and shot and killed a co-worker, triggering a firefight with police that left the shooter dead and as many as nine people injured, according to the NYPD.

The assailant, Jeffrey Johnson, was fired last year from his job as a women’s accessory designer at Hazan Imports Corp., Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said at a news briefing at the time. The 58-year-old Manhattan resident returned to the business on West 33rd Street and shot Steve Ercolino in the head at close range on the street at 9:03 a.m., officials said.

‘Cold Blood’

“Police officers were dealing with a killer who had just assassinated a man in cold blood moments earlier, just around the block, and who was still armed and who constituted a real and present danger to the officers and the public at large,” Paul Browne, a spokesman for the police department, said today in an e-mailed statement. “He produced a gun and pointed it at officers when they fired.”

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.

“These officers had to make split-second decisions in dealing with a life-threatening situation presented by an armed gunman who had just killed someone,” Michael A. Cardozo, corporation counsel for the city, said today in a statement. “The state’s highest court has recognized that police officers’ split-second decisions to use deadly force must be protected from this kind of second-guessing. To allow otherwise would have a chilling effect on the ability of our police to enforce the law and would put the lives of police officers and the public at risk.”

Doctorate Student

Duclos, 32, is studying for a doctorate in physical therapy at the University of North Carolina and was in New York for a family reunion in New Jersey when she was shot, her attorney, Amy Marion, said in a phone interview. Duclos had stayed with a friend in the New York suburb of Westchester County the night before and was walking to Pennsylvania Station from Grand Central Terminal to travel to the reunion when she was caught in the crossfire, Marion said.

Duclos was knocked to the ground by the bullet and remained in the crosswalk, “shot, motionless and fearing for her life,” according to the filing. The bullet lodged in her left leg and her thighbone was “completely destroyed,” according to the complaint.

Duclos was hospitalized from Aug. 24 to Sept. 8, when she was discharged to receive physical therapy. NYPD officers are accused in the lawsuit of failing “to follow and to exercise proper police tactics and procedures during the incident, giving rise to the injuries sustained by plaintiff.”

The 1,453-foot (443-meter), 103-story skyscraper was completed in 1931. It was the tallest building in the world until New York’s World Trade Center was built in the 1970s. Its 86th- and 102nd-floor observatories attract about 4 million visitors a year, according to its website.

The case is Duclos v. New York City, 150593/2013, New York State Supreme Court, New York County (Manhattan).

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