February 9, 2006

Officer Shot by Police in Friendly Fire Incident Dies

Special to the Sun

The off-duty police officer shot by a fellow officer in the confusion of an early morning brawl on January 28 died yesterday, officials said.

Eric Hernandez, 24, was pronounced dead at 1:03 p.m. after being taken off life support at the behest of his family. The officer suffered complications from the three gunshot wounds he sustained at a White Castle restaurant in the Bronx. Doctors were forced to amputate the lower part of his right leg, which was badly damaged by one of the bullets, hospital officials said. Earlier in the week he had seizures, which required him to be put on life support, hospital officials said.

The scene Officer Alfredo Toro came upon the morning of Hernandez's shooting was a wild one, according to official accounts of what happened. Hernandez, off duty and in civilian clothes, had just been severely beaten by a gang of six people after an argument, police said. A 911 call was made, and the responding officers, including Mr. Toro, arrived at the restaurant's parking lot to find Hernandez with his gun pointed at the head of a man he thought was involved with the beating. When Mr. Toro told him to drop the gun, Hernandez didn't respond. Officials later said he was probably intoxicated from a night of drinking and fazed by injuries from the beating. Mr. Toro fired three times when he refused to drop his weapon, hitting Hernandez once in each leg and in the abdomen.

Police officials later determined Mr. Toro had followed correct protocols.

In the days after the shooting, Hernandez's father and fellow members of the New York Police Department football team, for which Hernandez played as a running back, stood at his bedside hoping for a successful recovery, despite increasingly grim vital signs. Several of the bullets had perforated major arteries, requiring large blood transfusions to keep him alive. Hernandez's injuries, including wounds from the beating as well as the gunshot wounds, required seven rounds of surgery, a spokesman at St. Bernabas Hospital, Fred Winters, said.

Hernandez was a rookie officer, having been in service for a year and a half at the 52nd Precinct in the Bronx. He was a graduate of Sacred Heart University in Connecticut, where he was also a running back for the Pioneers. He was unmarried. Several public officials released statements grieving the officer's death yesterday.

"Officer Hernandez was a young and vibrant police officer dedicated to serving the people of New York City," Mayor Bloomberg said. "His death weights heavily on our hearts and minds."

The head of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, Patrick Lynch, took a hard line on those who beat Hernandez at the restaurant.

"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," he said. "Witnesses indicate that he had identified himself as a police officer before the cowardly group brutally attacked and beat him. ... We must send a message to the criminals that you will pay a very heavy price if you attack a police officer."

Six people have been arrested in connection with Hernandez's beating. The suspects, who range from 16 to 26 years of age, have all been charged with assault.

The Police Department announced it will give Hernandez a full honors burial.