Bystanders Hit by Police Bullets in New York City Get Little Sympathy and No Compensation

Wednesday, November 13, 2013
Bystander shot by police outside Empire State Building August 24, 2012 (photo: mr. mookie, Instagram/AP)

Getting shot has been made that much worse in New York City, where officials have taken a hard-line with bystanders caught in the line of fire of police officers.


Sixteen bystanders have been struck by police bullets in the city since 2011. Time and again, city lawyers have fought lawsuits brought by those wounded in these incidents. They adamantly refuse to settle cases and aggressively act to have them thrown out prior to trial.


NYC’s legal defense is rooted in a 2010 State Court of Appeals ruling that tossed a lawsuit by a bystander shot by police.


“The state’s highest court has recognized that police officers’ split-second decisions to use deadly force must be protected from this kind of second-guessing,” Michael A. Cardozo, who is in charge of the city’s Law Department, said in a statement, after a woman wounded outside the Empire State Building sued.


That incident took place on August 24, 2012, when nine pedestrians were shot by police trying to take down a gunman outside the famed building.


The most recent bystander shooting occurred in September, when two officers near Times Square fired at a man they mistakenly believed had a gun. The man was not wounded, but two female bystanders were, one of whom is now preparing to file a lawsuit.


The lawsuits that are filed by innocent bystanders as a result of officer shootings are referred to by New York City as “no-pay cases,” an indication of how black-and-white city lawyers view these incidents.


Cities across the U.S. handle such cases differently, according to the The New York Times. In Philadelphia in 2008, a $1.8 million dollar settlement was reached after a bystander was fatally wounded as police shot at an armed suspect. A 2010 police shooting of unarmed individuals in Harlem brought about several settlements, including one for $850,000 due to a fatality. The city of Chicago spent six years battling a 13-year-old girl who was hit in the shoulder by police gunfire, before her case made it to trial in 2010.


Legal experts say the cases present a challenge for police trying to protect the public, while not causing more harm than good.


“On the one hand they’re trying to protect people,” Jeffrey L. Seglin, an ethicist and lecturer on public policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, told the Times. “On the other hand, you think they would try to take care of people who get hurt in that process. The legal thing isn’t always the right thing.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Danny Biederman


To Learn More:

Bystanders Shot by the Police Face an Uphill Fight to Win Lawsuits (by J. David Goodman, New York Times)

Five City Officers Cleared In Shootings of Bystanders (by Ray Rivera, New York Times)


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