Officer who shot NY student faced harrowing choice

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This undated photo provided by the Nassau County Police Department shows Dalton Smith of Hempstead, N.Y. (AP Photo/Nassau County Police Department)

 

Rebello and the intruder, Dalton Smith, died early Friday when the officer fired eight shots, hitting him seven times, with one bullet striking Rebello once in the head, according to county homicide squad Lt. John Azzata.

With a gun pointed at her, Smith “kept saying, ‘I’m going to kill her,’ and then he pointed the gun at the police officer,” according to Azzata.

The officer acted quickly, saying later that he believed his and Rebello’s life were in danger, according to authorities.

No doubt, he was acting to try to save lives — his own and that of the young woman, Galietta said.

“What we’re asking the cop to anticipate is, ‘What is going on in the suspect’s mind at the moment?’” she said. “We’re always trying to de-escalate, to contain a situation, but the issue of safety comes in first, and that’s the evaluation the officer has to make.”

Eugene O’Donnell, a former New York City police officer and professor of law and police studies at John Jay College, said the crucial issue may be whether or not police had deemed it a hostage situation. If so, he said, there are protocols police follow to buy time, slow down, isolate and assess.

But O’Donnell said the officers may have had few options because of “an eyeball to eyeball confrontation between the officer and the offender.”

“It may have been too fluid to deteriorate for the officers to do anything else,” O’Donnell said. “It underscores that there’s no two of these that are exactly alike.”

Police tactical manuals are meant to assist officers in making the best decision possible, but in the end, “they’re not 100 percent foolproof,” Galietta said. “In a situation like that, you can follow procedure, and it doesn’t mean it comes out perfectly.”

The officer who fired the shots is an eight-year NYPD veteran and has been with Nassau County police for 12 years.

He is now out on sick leave, Azzata said.

Procedurally, the Nassau County district attorney’s office would determine whether an officer’s use of deadly force was justified. O’Donnell said. A spokesman for the district attorney’s office did not respond to a request for comment Saturday night.

There are some rules governing the use of force for New York police officers. A subsection of Article 35 of New York Penal Law prohibits against recklessly endangering innocent people.

Associated Press writers Frank Eltman in Mineola, N.Y., and Jake Pearson contributed to this report.

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