February 8, 2006

Officer shot in `friendly fire' incident dies

Associated Press

An off-duty police officer shot by a patrolman in a case of mistaken identity has died, city officials said.

Officer Eric Hernandez died Wednesday at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx, where he had been in critical condition since the incident on Jan. 28.

The on-duty patrolman shot Hernandez, 24, in each leg and the stomach. Police said the shooting stemmed from a dispute between Hernandez _ who had been drinking and was in street clothes _ and several other men at a fast-food restaurant.

After being surrounded and severely beaten, the dazed officer pulled a gun on a man in the restaurant's parking lot before being shot by the patrolman, police said. The shooter, Alfredo Toro, had no way of knowing Hernandez was a fellow officer and fired only after Hernandez refused orders to drop his weapon, police said.

"Officer Hernandez was a young and vibrant police officer dedicated to serving the people of New York City," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement. "His death weighs heavily on our hearts and minds. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Hernandez family and also with his colleagues and friends during this difficult and tragic time."

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly added, "His valiant struggle over the last several days was emblematic of the grit and determination he demonstrated as a police officer and as an athlete. He fought courageously to the very end, and he will be missed by us all."

Hernandez, of White Plains, had been a police officer since July 2004, and was a member of the department's football team.

Authorities have arrested six men in connection with the assault on Hernandez. The shooting was believed to be the NYPD's first "friendly fire" shooting since Desmond Robinson, who was in plainclothes, was shot in the back by an off-duty officer on Aug. 22, 1994. Robinson had his gun drawn on a subway platform, and the officer mistook him for a criminal.

In a statement, Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, said, "Now we must ensure that the thugs who are primarily responsible for the death of this police officer are held fully accountable under the new 'crimes against police' laws. Witnesses indicate that he had identified himself as a police officer before the cowardly group brutally attacked and beat him. They ultimately set into motion the events that caused New York to lose a great cop with a promising career."