Updated Dec 24, 2016
By MARK TOOR
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced Dec. 21 that his office had cleared an NYPD officer who shot and killed an unarmed man he and his partner had chased from The Bronx into Yonkers.
As part of the fallout from the death of Eric Garner in 2014, Governor Cuomo gave Mr. Schneiderman the authority to appoint himself a special prosecutor to investigate the death of any unarmed or possibly unarmed civilian who dies in a confrontation with or in the custody of law enforcement.
Tinted Windows Concern
Mr. Schneiderman’s Special Investigations and Prosecution Unit found no criminal culpability in the death of Miguel Espinal, 35, on Dec. 8, 2015.
Officers Garthlette James and Romeo Francis spotted Mr. Espinal near the northwest corner of Van Cortlandt Park driving a 2009 Nissan 370Z with windows tinted dark enough to possibly violate state law, the AG’s report said.
When the officers sought to pull the car over to check the tinting, the AG’s office said, “rather than stopping, Mr. Espinal recklessly sped onto the Henry Hudson Parkway, collided with two other vehicles, and continued onto the Saw Mill River Parkway, where he made a U-turn, drove south against traffic in the northbound lane, and collided with three other civilian vehicles. Mr. Espinal then exited his vehicle and ran into the wooded area adjacent to the parkway.”
The officers pursued him on foot but became separated. Officer James, gun in hand, chased Mr. Es-pinal for about 30 yards before grabbing his shoulder.
‘Tried to Take Gun’
“PO James said that Mr. Espinal then put both hands on PO James’s gun in an attempt to take it,” according to the report. “...PO James was able to take Mr. Espinal to the ground, but Mr. Espinal continued to wrestle against PO James…
“Believing that he would die if Mr. Espinal succeeded in obtaining his gun and describing himself as physically ‘spent’ following the automobile pursuit, foot chase, and wrestling with Mr. Espinal, PO James intentionally fired one shot into Mr. Espinal’s chest…PO James estimated that he was two feet or closer to Mr. Espinal at the time.”
The report said Mr. Espinal continued to struggle until Officer Francis caught up and the two officers handcuffed him and, “exhausted and out of breath,” summoned help. Despite lifesaving efforts by police and paramedics, Mr. Espinal died at the scene.
Backed by Evidence
“Abrasions on Mr. Espinal’s body (as well as on Officer James’ body) are consistent with Officer James’s account that he and Mr. Espinal wrestled with each other in the wooded area,” the Attorney General’s Office said. “The firearms report shows that the approximate distance between the muzzle of the gun and Mr. Espinal was between 14 and 18 inches, which corroborates Officer James’ statement that he was in close proximity to Mr. Espinal when he fired the weapon.” The report said the forensic evidence supported Officer James’s version of events.
State law allows an officer to use deadly physical force if he believes he or someone else is in imminent danger of an offender using deadly force. In addition to the physical evidence, the report said, “Mr. Espinal’s dangerous conduct prior to entering the wooded area lends credibility to PO James’s claim that PO James reasonably believed that he was in danger of the imminent use of deadly force.”
Norman Siegel, a lawyer for Mr. Espinal’s family, told the New York Times that relatives questioned the accuracy of the report and planned to meet with a pathologist who had conducted an independent autopsy.