March 30, 2014

When Cops Fire Weapons, Animals Are The Likely Targets (Lower Hudson Journal)

By Jonathan Damashek

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By Ernie Garcia

YONKERS – When city police fire their weapons, there are usually animals in their sights.

Virtually every time officers have discharged their weapons in the past two years, the targets were dogs, deer or other wild creatures.

Last year, police discharged their weapons more than twice as many times as the year before. The officers’ rate of firing at animals was roughly equivalent to that of officers in New York City -a department with about 36,000 more officers than Yonkers.

Police discharged their weapons 46 times in 2007 and 20 times in 2006, according to department records.

With the exception of one accidental discharge, all the 2007 discharges were at animals. Of the 2006 discharges, one was a discharge of a nonlethal projectile at a person, with the remainder at animals.

The city released data about police weapons discharges July 10 in response to a Freedom of Information Law request by The Journal News. The newspaper is investigating claims by a city man that he was shot by police when they executed a search warrant on his Walnut Street apartment and shot his three pit bulls to death.

According to a 2007 report by the Rand Center on Quality Policing, the New York City police reported 30 dog shootings in 2006 and most of its dog shootings this decade ranged from 40 to 26 per year. Rand could not provide data on New York City’s 2007 dog shootings.

Bernard D. Rostker, Rand’s lead author on the report, said the New York police department’s rates are atypical. “Everyone has commented on how low the use of firearms by New York City is,” said Rostker, a Bronx native. “It really is a remarkable use of restraint.”

Rostker noted that Washington, D.C., had a much higher rate of police-weapons discharges overall compared to New York City – about 3.7 times more. He noted that in the first quarter of 2007 there were two discharges at dogs by Washington, D.C., police.

The Yonkers records do not indicate -and police would not say -what animals were targeted in each instance.

Police Lt. Joseph Fernandez said the Emergency Service Unit is the department’s primary responder to possibly rabid or wild animals like deer or coyotes. Officers in ESU use OO buckshot in their shotguns.

Fernandez declined to comment on why police have a comparable animal shooting rate to New York City.

Police use of gunfire to subdue animals has become an issue in an excessive-force complaint by a Yonkers resident.

On June 14, 2007, police reported two ESU officers fired 15 shotgun rounds to subdue three pit bulls. Carlos Sullivan, 49, a building superintendent, claims those officers shot him and his dogs while executing a search warrant on his Walnut Street apartment.

In January, Sullivan’s attorney filed legal papers notifying the city of his client’s intention to sue. Last week Sullivan’s attorney, Jonathan Damashek, said he has still not filed the lawsuit.

In February, police said that they found two pieces of crack and packaging materials in Sullivan’s home during their “no-knock” warrant execution. Sullivan was charged with two drug-possession felonies.

Police denied shooting Sullivan, though Damashek gave the newspaper a copy of an emergency-room examination report from the date of the incident indicating Sullivan had a metallic foreign body in his leg.

Sullivan’s court filings stated his felony charges were dropped or resolved in his favor. The Westchester County District Attorney’s Office declined to comment on Sullivan’s case because his court record has been sealed.

On May 12, The Journal News mailed a request to the city for a copy of Sullivan’s arrest report and the related search warrant. As of Friday the city had not relinquished the documents.

The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating Yonkers police over allegations of civil rights violations and last month federal authorities indicted an officer on a charge that he slammed a woman to the floor at a Palisade Avenue restaurant in 2007.

Damashek said after police killed the pit bulls and subdued Sullivan and his children, officers continued shooting the dead dogs in the small apartment to terrorize or intimidate Sullivan’s children.

Rostker said it is not unusual for police to fire multiple rounds at pit bulls before subduing them.

“These animals do not drop,” he said.