NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — An innocent victim of an NYPD shooting is telling CBS2 News her story.
As CBS2’s Sonia Rincon reported exclusively Friday, LaToya James was the bystander wounded nearly two years ago when police shot and killed a suspect in a hatchet attack on a police officer in Jamaica, Queens.READ MORE: Kason Parker Arrested In Deadly Stabbing Of 27-Year-Old Meghan Kiefer On Front Lawn Of Coram Home
While the shooting may have saved lives, it forever changed hers.
From the moment it happened, James has felt forgotten. A bystander captured the chaos on video of the moments after she was shot.
She remembers leaving work that day in October 2014 on Jamaica Avenue, hearing the gunfire, feeling the sharp pain in her lower back, and falling to the ground.
“All I could do was just cry out, just asking for help,” James said, “screaming, crying, and at the time they’re still shooting.”
The NYPD had opened fire on Zale Thompson, who had attacked Officer Kenneth Healey with a hatchet. It was a terrorist attack by a man authorities said was a self-radicalized would-be cop killer.
The officers fired more than a dozen shots on the busy street to stop him.
As James lay on the street bleeding, she remembers hearing ambulances come and go without her.
“Those ambulances didn’t come get me at the time,” James said. “I had to wait for the last ambulance.”
Perilously close to being paralyzed, James underwent major surgery to remove part of her colon. It has been a long road to recovery both physically and emotionally.
“I always have to look over my shoulders now. I’m more alert,” she said, “but I have more fear.”
James remembers seeing officer Healey released from the hospital to applause. There was no such celebration of her survival.
“They said at the time I should have been paralyzed, so I would have felt good if I came out of the hospital and everyone clapped for me because I was alive,” James said. “But I didn’t have that.”READ MORE: President Joe Biden To Visit New Jersey For Kickoff Of Portal Bridge Construction
Worse, James hasn’t gotten a penny of compensation from the city. Under existing law, the city owes her nothing. Her application for help from the state crime victim’s compensation fund was recently denied because her case falls into a legal gray area.
“I’m a victim, but I’m not a victim of the engaged crime. It wasn’t intentionally that I got shot. It was accidentally, so they don’t pay out for that. They don’t help with that. I’m not the actual victim of the crime,” James said.
Rincon asked James what the city could do to make things right for her.
“Just compensate me. Let me live. I want my life back. I don’t want to be a victim anymore,” James said. “I’ve been in a lot of pain. I’m just tired. I just want all of it to be over.”
James’ only option is to file a lawsuit — and she has. But she says an apology would also go a long way.
Rincon asked James if she wanted the officer whose bullet struck her to come and talk with her about it.
“Yes,” James replied. “I would like some clarity and some closure.”
She also would like to set the record straight. News accounts called her a homeless woman. She was living in a shelter at the time, because she’s a struggling single mom.
“I wasn’t just a homeless woman,” James said. “I got up. I worked. I took care of my son. I did whatever it took me to do to have my son have a better life.”
James’ case is not unlike the innocent victims of the 2012 shooting at the Empire State Building, hurt by police gunfire. They have also filed lawsuits. Similar cases have seen settlements. But until that happens for James, she has no choice but to wait.
“I didn’t ask for this,” she said, “and I feel like I’m suffering more than anybody else.”
CBS2 reached out to several city agencies including the Mayor’s office, but the city can’t discuss pending litigation.
James has an attorney who’s preparing to tell a jury her story. Her lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount. But a verdict or a settlement could take years.MORE NEWS: Disciplinary Trial To Begin For Former SBA President Ed Mullins
In cases such as the Empire State Building shooting, bystanders who are injured can apply to the state Office of Victim Services for reimbursement of medical expenses. CBS2’s Rincon reports this is not applicable in James’ case – her medical bills are covered by Medicaid, for now.