FACTS & ALLEGATIONS
A 50-year-old car wash employee with a mental disability in Queens, New York, was shot by police officers who happened to be patrolling the area. The plaintiff, who spoke only Spanish and possessed the mental ability of a nine-year-old, was shot twice in the chest after police officers spotted what looked like a gun in his clothing.
On the day of the shooting, the plaintiff had been sent by another car-wash employee to buy cigarettes at a service station across the street. As he was crossing wide Queens Boulevard back to the car wash, the lights began to change. Two police officers were sitting at the light in their squad car and one made a sweeping hand motion toward the plaintiff, signaling him to hurry across the street before the light changed.
The plaintiff misunderstood the signal, thinking instead the policeman wanted him to approach the side of the car. When he did so, the officers told him to hurry across the street. The plaintiff shrugged his shoulders and raised this palms to indicate that he didn’t understand what they were saying. That’s when the police officers spotted a plastic gun (which they believed was real) in the pocket of the plaintiff’s clothing.
As the plaintiff went back toward the car wash, the two officers got out of the squad car with their guns drawn. Training their weapons on the plaintiff, they shouted “Police! Don’t move!” The police say that the plaintiff spun around and pulled out his gun, aiming at the officers as he fell into a military-style crouching position.
Eyewitnesses claim the plaintiff simply turned around, with nothing in his hands. Whatever happened, one of the officers fired his weapon, hitting the plaintiff twice in the chest. The attorney representing the City in the case noted that the police officers had no way of knowing that the gun the plaintiff carried in his clothing was a toy, and it was thus reasonable for them to feel threatened.
The plaintiff survived the shooting but suffered a collapsed lung, broken ribs and incontinence. The central issue at trial was whether the police officers engaged in excessive force. Thanks to the wealth of eye-witnesses and circumstantial evidence, the plaintiff’s attorneys were confident they would prevail on the issue of liability.
A salesman at an auto dealership beside the car wash who witnessed the shooting testified that the plaintiff had nothing in his hand when he turned around. Further medical testimony which indicated that if the plaintiff was – as police alleged – crouching with both hands outstretched in front of him holding a gun, it is unlikely that the bullets would have struck him in the chest.
The jury in the case awarded the plaintiff $37 million for the injuries he suffered as a result of the police shooting.