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Empire State Building Shooting Victim Sues NYPD

Empire State Building shooting victim Chenin Duclos (C), surrounded by her lawyers at a news conference announcing her lawsuit Jan. 22, 2013 (credit: Jim Smith/WCBS 880)

Empire State Building shooting victim Chenin Duclos (C), surrounded by her lawyers at a news conference announcing her lawsuit Jan. 22, 2013 (credit: Jim Smith/WCBS 880)

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MINEOLA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) – A University of North Carolina student wounded in last summer’s shooting outside the Empire State Building is suing the NYPD.

Chenin Duclos, 32, and eight other bystanders were wounded by police gunfire, ricochets and fragments after two officers opened fire on 58-year-old Jeffrey Johnson on Aug. 24, 2011.

Johnson encountered the officers moments after he allegedly shot and killed his former co-worker, 41-year-old Steven Ercolino, outside Hazan Imports on West 33rd Street, officials said.

PHOTOS: WARNING GRAPHIC – Shooting Near Empire State Building

The two officers fired a total of 16 rounds at Johnson after he pulled out a gun and pointed it at the officers, police said.

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said all nine bystanders were hit by police officers’ bullets. Six of the nine were hit by bullet fragments, while the other three were hit directly by bullets. However, none of the injuries were life-threatening.

Duclos said in a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Manhattan’s state Supreme Court that the department and the officers were “grossly negligent” in the way they handled the shooting.

The lawsuit says police should have taken steps to avoid the confrontation.

The lawsuit contends police were “grossly negligent in not waiting to confront Johnson until he moved to a location where innocent bystanders were not present.”

“Inappropriate actions of the officers which caused him to bring his weapon out and to escalate this situation,” Duclos’ attorney Amy Marion said.

Marion also said the incident shows that the NYPD needs to improve training.

“They consistently fail to properly train employees and officers in the settings they will encounter,” she said.

The shooting happened as thousands were on the streets surrounding the landmark on a bright summer morning.

The city’s law department said officers had to make a quick decision in dealing with a life-threatening situation, and they would be vigorously defended.

“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,” said New York City Corporation Counsel Michael A. Cardozo. “To allow otherwise would have a chilling effect on the ability of our police to enforce the law and would put the lives of police officers and the public at risk.”

Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg have said they believe the officers followed proper protocol.

Marion said she believed the lawsuit filed by Duclos was the first since the shooting, although others have filed notices of claim, signaling their intention to sue.

Duclos is a resident of Chapel Hill, N.C., and is in her second year studying physical therapy at the University of North Carolina. She said recovery from her injuries, including a neck wound and a shattered femur, has slowed her education.

“I was shot with one bullet,” Duclos told reporters including WCBS 880’s Jim Smith. “I do still have pain with certain motions.”

And if not for a detour through New York City, she said she may have never been shot.

She explained she had arrived by train at Grand Central Terminal and was walking with a friend across town to Pennsylvania Station to catch another train to a family reunion in New Jersey when she was shot as she crossed Fifth Avenue and 34th Street.

“I started to hear what I thought were gunshots,” she said. “Everything happened really quickly. People were starting to run, screaming and yelling.”

Moments later she felt what seemed like a punch to her left hip.

“All of a sudden I was on the ground,” she said. “I couldn’t move my leg; I knew I was hit by something but it was really hard to connect with the idea it would be a bullet.”

She said she is still working with physical therapists on regaining her mobility, only using a crutch when absolutely necessary.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)