Dashing Cop Who Killed Bronx Lady Raises Questions About Tradition of NYPD’s Street Recklessness – Streetsblog New York Metropolis

A discover of declare filed final week searching for $20 million from the town after a rushing cop hit and killed a younger lady within the Bronx raises questions anew about police procedures in car pursuits, and the way cops rarely face any actual punishment after injuring, and even killing, victims, attorneys say. 

Town might be pressured to pay out $20 million to the household of 20-year-old Sofia Gomez Aguilon, who was killed by Police Officer Ceasar Munoz as he sped at 60 miles-per-hour by means of a purple mild on Pelham Parkway close to Wallace Avenue on Oct. 5 — driving so recklessly that he needs to be held liable for Gomez Aguilon’s demise, in line with her household’s lawyer.

“The video clearly exhibits that the officer that struck Sofia was reckless,” mentioned private damage lawyer Louis Grandelli. “The proof demonstrates that the police car sped by means of a purple mild at a excessive price of velocity at a busy intersection, and we hope that the town acknowledges the enormity of this tragedy.”

However the case solely brings to mild questions concerning the NYPD’s tradition of driving recklessly with impunity, and the system that protects cops, regardless of the hundreds of thousands of {dollars} every year the town is pressured to pay out to victims and families like Gomez Aguilon’s. 

“Cops get immunity if they’re concerned in a crash,” mentioned Dan Flanzig, who additionally represents victims of visitors violence. 

NYPD Settlements by Year
Final 12 months, Streetsblog extensively coated the price of reckless driving by cops.

As onerous as it’s to prosecute a driver for hitting and killing a pedestrian or bicycle owner, it’s even more durable to go after certainly one of New York’s Best, in each civil and legal court docket, in line with Flanzig. Charging a cop requires a better stage of proof than a non-member of service as a result of the state’s Car and Visitors Legislation (statute 11-04) affords emergency automobiles a sure leeway, he mentioned.

“Emergency automobiles are granted fairly extensive immunity underneath the legislation. The drivers’ operation has to rise to a stage of recklessness, not simply negligence, in a gross disregard for the protection of others. It’s a a lot greater customary than simply common negligence,” mentioned Flanzig.

However Grandelli believes he can meet that customary in civil court docket, the place he’s searching for a pain-and-suffering settlement for Gomez Aguilon’s household, since Munoz was each driving above the velocity restrict and went by means of a purple mild. 

“If we are able to present two negligent acts, that’s reckless — right here is rushing by means of a purple mild,” Grandelli mentioned. 

And what raises much more questions concerning the stage of safety afforded to cops is the one they attempt to search themselves by exhibiting up en masse to the scene of deadly crashes involving their colleagues.

That proof is correct within the NYPD’s personal information. An inner police doc of the crash obtained by Streetsblog says that 15 investigators from NYPD’s Collision Investigation Squad confirmed as much as the deadly crash — 9 greater than confirmed as much as each a fatal hit-and-run on Linden Boulevard in Queens final Saturday, and to the scene of the deadly motorcyclist crash on Third Avenue in Sundown Park on Oct. 3 that left 31-year-old Clara Kang lifeless. It’s additionally 11 extra investigators than confirmed up after 35-year-old Sarah Pitts was killed in Williamsburg on Sept. 7, in line with a number of police stories.

The considerably bigger presence on the scene of the Bronx crash is notable on condition that CIS is so notoriously understaffed that final 12 months the Metropolis Council needed to extend its price range by $2 million in order that the 26-member crew may reply to extra than simply 5 p.c of the two,000-3,000 deadly and near-fatal crashes yearly. Town’s prime cop on the time, Police Commissioner James O’Neill, declined the extra cash.

Each Flanzig and lawyer Steve Vaccaro say it’s not unusual for extra investigators to point out as much as the scene of a crash involving a member of service as a result of the town’s Inside Affairs Bureau should come, city-involved crashes tend to attract extra consideration and sources, and likewise as a result of they need to shield their very own by placing up a wall to the general public. 

“They’re exhibiting up en masse to guard a member of service,” mentioned Flanzig.

It’s a apply all too acquainted to Flanzig, who’s representing the household of 22-year-old Jack Koval, whom an off-duty cop hit and killed in Manhattan in 2016.

Police tried responsible Koval for his personal demise, saying he had “climbed over a divider and stepped into oncoming visitors.” With none assist from the town or the officers who have been purported to be investigating the case, Koval’s dad and mom took issues into their very own arms to clear their solely little one’s identify.

And so they did — it was finally revealed that the off-duty cop, Steven Oquendo, behind the wheel of a Dodge Charger, had struck and killed Koval at a probable excessive price of velocity whereas Koval was within the crosswalk.

Oquendo was by no means held criminally accountable, however a civil swimsuit in opposition to Oquendo is pending, the household’s lawyer mentioned.

“What I noticed with Jack, it was achieved in a fashion to guard (the cop),” Flanzig mentioned.

Like within the Koval case, cops initially tried to lie about what really occurred, saying at first that Munoz was solely driving 30- to 40-miles-per-hour when he struck Gomez Aguilon, till NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea admitted on NY1 final week that the officer was really going a lot quicker. Shea mentioned Munoz had been pulled from patrol, and final Sunday, lower than per week after Gomez was killed, Legal professional Basic Letitia James introduced her workplace was opening an investigation into the deadly crash.

However in contrast to within the Koval case, this time there’s video — which Grandelli says clearly exhibits Gomez Aguilon see the automobile come careening in direction of her, and try and get out of the way in which earlier than freezing in worry, elevating questions on why Munoz didn’t gradual or cease earlier than fatally hitting the younger lady.

“It’s onerous to think about what doable excuse the officer may have for not seeing Sofia when he had a transparent and unobstructed view of the intersection, and it’s evident she was capable of see the car,” Grandelli mentioned. 

Police claimed that Munoz was responding to a name of pictures fired seven miles away — in Queens — when he hit Gomez Aguilon. This alleged incident, and the NYPD’s response to it, may additionally come up in court docket. It ought to.

And whereas the state law permits cops to hurry and undergo purple lights when responding to an emergency, the NYPD’s Patrol Guide for car pursuits provides little extra precise steerage — there’s no limitations on velocity, or distance a cop can drive when responding to such a name. The one restrictions are that two-and-three-wheeled automobiles can not interact in chases, and that any ways utilized in an try and cease a car are prohibited, like ramming, or abruptly chopping off the car.

However Grandelli questioned the necessity for Munoz to hurry alongside Pelham Parkway to reply to a criminal offense that started in Queens, miles away from the place he frequently patrols within the Bronx. As such, he’s demanding the town hand over all associated radio and pc transmissions associated to the chase and response that led to the demise of Gomez Aguilon.

The Oct. 5 Bronx crash at the least the second deadly crash involving an NYPD patrol automobile this 12 months.

On July 25, two cops in a marked NYPD squad automobile struck and killed 37-year-old motorcyclist Delroy Morris on the intersection of Metropolitan and Driggs avenues in Williamsburg.

Simply as in Gomez’s case, the cops who hit Morris claimed they have been additionally responding to a taking pictures that later turned out to be a false alarm, and that the car’s lights and sirens have been blaring. However witnesses told the Daily News that solely the lights have been on, not sirens.

The motive force in that case, Officer Angelo Martino, has one complaint in opposition to him filed by a 37-year-old Hispanic man in February, 2019, which incorporates two substantiated allegations for abusing his energy throughout a car stop-and-frisk,  in line with a database by ProPublica.

And in the long run, it’s taxpayers who’re all the time pressured to pay the worth — the town has needed to pay out $228 million in settlements to victims of auto crashes involving the NYPD since 2013, by means of final August, Streetsblog reported.

The NYPD declined to remark.

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