Thursday, June 03, 2010


I heard about it, of course, before I knew who was involved, and when you hear something like that you immediately do what everybody does: You blame the guy.

"I wouldn't make that mistake." "I wouldn't of been in that position at all." "I'm smarter than that." "My vision is better." "I would've waited."

Because if you don't blame the guy, it means it could happen to you.

Denny was the kind of guy you just didn't expect in the academy. He'd been working as a nurse at Sloan-Kettering. He had two little kids. He was really, really smart. And pretty quiet. Sometimes he and I would stand at the edge of the parade deck during meal and watch the city below and talk about complicated things. We were never close pals or anything, but he was a friend.
It was a robbery in progress call. That's a bad one. You know there are weapons and you know you've got innocents involved and you know there isn't a lot of time. The first car went to the front of the Liquor Store down on 183rd. Denny and his partner went around back. A guy came out a door pointing a .357. They said "drop it." He didn't. Denny took him out with two shots.

They teach you all these things about pointing your gun. "Never" they tell you, "point your gun at someone unless the next thing you're going to do is shoot them. Because if you point your gun and tell the person to do something and they don't… what'cha gonna do?" So there are all these steps. Put your hand on the gun. Break it from the holster lock. Take it out, pointed down. Move your finger to the trigger guard. Intermediate positions that allow you to keep upping the ante. But that all goes out the window when someone comes at you with a gun. In that case it's all about self-preservation.
Yeah, it's the wrong guy. The store owner. The robber already having booked. And the moment it happens. The very moment. Denny knows. Of course he knows. People in the neighborhood wail. They scream about "killer cops." It is the whole front page of the next day's New York Post. "Cop Mistake Kills Robbery Victim." Big letters. Long bio. The crying wife. The crying kids. The angry merchants of the street. "They're never here when things happen, except this time, then they kill the wrong guy."

Six months later Denny's wife Rebecca told me about how he'd been so desperate to get away from nursing cancer patients. No one ever lived, she said. He'd see them come back every six months, just getting worse. He wanted to get out into the air. She said he'd said, "At least as a cop they'll die quick if they die."
It is a "clean shoot" even though it is horribly wrong. No one in authority is ever going to say they'd do anything differently in that situation. Even the neighborhood witnesses admit he yelled "Stop, Police" and even that he yelled "Drop it now." There's no grand jury, no big long term investigation. He gets the requisite week off. And during that week one department chaplain talks to him once. And during that week six of us who knew him in the academy call even though we haven't seen him in the year since but we don't push Rebecca to make him talk to us. And during that week one guy from his precinct stops by his house but when there's no answer he just goes away. And during that week Denny stops sleeping at all.

Four months later I see him downtown in the Property Clerk's Office. It takes a while for him to know who I am. Then he says, "hey, how ya doing?" and disappears. I wonder whether his eyes are like that because of meds or just... Another two months go by before I find Rebecca. By that time Denny is on psych sick leave. He sits in his bedroom watching game shows. He doesn't leave the house except for the necessary doctor's appointments. By the time I've gotten there Denny is gone and isn't coming back.

(c) copyright 2006 - 2010 by Ira Socol

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