A police officer had just opened fire on a man he thought was a criminal, caught running through a desolate stretch of Harlem with a gun in his hand.
A police officer had just opened fire on a man he thought was a criminal, caught running through a desolate stretch of Harlem with a gun in his hand.But when paramedics arrived at the scene and cut through the bloodied clothes, the officers realized the man handcuffed and dying in the street was wearing a police academy T-shirt underneath his street clothes, and had a badge in his pocket.He was a rookie cop chasing down a thief who had just broken into his car.Now, police are trying to determine whether any disciplinary or legal action will be taken against the officer who fired or whether the victim, Omar J. Edwards, might not have followed proper procedure.The officer who fired and two others involved were placed on administrative duty during the investigation, and it is too early to say whether anyone was at fault, said police spokesman Paul Browne.“The matter is under investigation. I’m not going to characterize the shooting in any way,” he said Friday.The episode once again raised questions about whether the NYPD is too trigger-happy, especially when the targets are black. The officers are white; Edwards was black.Edwards left his shift early at the police housing bureau in Manhattan’s Harlem neighborhood Thursday about 10:30 p.m. when he noticed a man rummaging through his car along a darkened street. The man, Miguel Santiago, had used a metal spark plug to smash the window, police said.Edwards struggled with Santiago, who wriggled out of his sweat shirt and took off running. Edwards pursued him with his 9 mm Smith & Wesson handgun drawn, witnesses told police.Meanwhile, Officer Andrew Dunton, a sergeant and another officer in an unmarked gray police car came upon the two men running. The officers were on routine patrol from the neighboring 25th Precinct anti-crime unit.Santiago, who ran past the officers, said later he heard Dunton yell, “Police! Stop! Drop the gun!”That’s when Edwards, in front of the police car, turned toward the officers with his service weapon in hand, police said. Dunton fired six times from behind the passenger’s door; Edwards was hit in the left arm, hip and back. He died at the Harlem Hospital Center about an hour after the shooting.Though the official cause of death was a gunshot to the chest, the bullet that caused the fatal injury entered the left side of Edwards’ back before hitting his heart and left lung, said medical examiner spokeswoman Ellen Borakove. It lodged in the front of his chest.Edwards did not fire his weapon, and Browne said so far, no witnesses say he identified himself as an officer.The other two officers ran after Santiago and arrested him on charges of petty larceny and resisting arrest. He was briefly hospitalized Friday but was being held at the 25th Precinct, police said. He was apparently living at a shelter.Dunton, 30, has been an officer for four years.On Friday, lawmakers and residents debated whether race played in the shooting even as the NYPD is the most diverse it’s ever been.“I think they just saw a guy with a gun. How’s that cop (who shot him) supposed to know” he was a police officer, said Carmen Romero, who was on her way to work Friday from a nearby housing project. On the other hand, she said, it could have been because the cop was black.Phyllis Tate, talking with another customer in a shop near the scene of the shooting, wondered how to identify officers if they’re not in uniform.“I don’t feel this was a racial thing. They can’t be running around out here in plainclothes with their guns drawn. The shooter was acting like an officer. The victim was acting like an officer also,” she said.The Rev. Al Sharpton said he got calls shortly after the shooting “from black officers who were at the precinct and were alarmed by the shooting of Omar Edwards.” The civil rights activist said he is concerned about “a growing pattern of black officers being killed with the assumption that they are the criminals.”Sharpton called for a federal investigation.“Can police investigate themselves fairly and impartially? It would seem very difficult at best and unlikely in fact,” he said.Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly was planning to meet with community leaders and concerned lawmakers during the weekend.The 25-year-old Edwards joined the department in July 2007, and his family said he always wanted to be a cop.“He was a wonderful, wonderful child from when he was small,” said his father, Ricardo Edwards.Omar Edwards lived in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn with his new wife and two small children, but was assigned to the Impact Response Team, a roving team of officers that helps flood higher-crime areas with officers. Edwards also played defensive tackle for the NYPD football team last year but took this season off to get married.“His desire was always to be a policeman and to play football; and he did accomplish both because he plays for the Police Department,” said his uncle, Jerome Harding.On Friday, purple and black bunting hung in front of the police station, and several vigils were held for the family. More were planned for the weekend. The NYPD changed its on-the-job training for June to confrontations between officers.The shooting recalled other cases of off-duty policemen being shot and killed by fellow officers.In 2008, a black, off-duty Mount Vernon police officer was killed by a Westchester County policeman while holding a gun on an assault suspect in suburban White Plains.In 2006, a New York City police officer, Eric Hernandez, was shot and killed by an on-duty patrolman who was responding to an attack at a White Castle in the Bronx.———Associated Press writers Marcus Franklin and Sara Kugler contributed to this report.