A 19-year-old high school student who intended to take a rooftop shortcut to a birthday party was shot and killed by a police officer early yesterday at the top of a dark stairwell leading to the roof of a Brooklyn housing project. Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said the shooting appeared to be unjustified.
In a confrontation in which coincidence and surprise apparently played tragic roles, officials said the victim, Timothy Stansbury Jr., who was walking up the narrow interior stairs ahead of two friends, and one of two officers on the roof simultaneously grabbed the handles of a door atop a four-story building at 385 Lexington Avenue, in Bedford-Stuyvesant, about 1:30 a.m.
As the door swung open, one of the uniformed officers, who were patrolling in the dark with drawn guns, fired a single shot that struck Mr. Stansbury in the chest. He staggered backward and, as his friends ran, he descended, bleeding, down five flights of stairs to the ground floor, where he collapsed, the police said.
The police summoned an ambulance, and Mr. Stansbury, who lived next door at 395 Lexington Avenue, was taken to Woodhull Medical and Mental Health Center, where he was pronounced dead. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and other city officials visited the victim’s family later to offer condolences and were jeered by crowds as they left.
It was the first fatal shooting of an unarmed civilian by a police officer in New York City since last May, when Ousmane Zongo, 35, an immigrant from Burkina Faso, was shot dead by an officer in a chase through the mazelike halls of a mini-storage center in Chelsea.
Commissioner Kelly, who visited the scene, said at an afternoon news conference that the officer who fired the fatal shot had not spoken to investigators, though his partner had done so, and that a preliminary inquiry suggested that the shooting was unjustified.
”At this point, based on the facts we have gathered, there appears to be no justification for the shooting,” the commissioner said. ”This is a tragic incident that compels us to take an in-depth look at our tactics and training, both for new and veteran officers.”
The identities of both officers were withheld, in accordance with police policy, Mr. Kelly said. But someone who had been briefed on the incident identified the officer who fired the shot as Richard Neri.
Mr. Kelly said the officer who fired the shot, an 11-year police veteran, was relieved of duty and his gun and badge were taken, pending further investigation. The second officer, a four-year veteran, was placed on administrative duty, Mr. Kelly said.
At the request of the Brooklyn district attorney, Charles J. Hynes, Mr. Kelly said the police would not immediately seek to question the officer who fired the shot. This is a standard practice that accords an officer the same right as any citizen to remain silent and preserves the state’s latitude to prosecute, if an investigation indicates that charges are warranted.
According to a law enforcement source, the officer had not been involved in any other shootings and had not been the subject of any disciplinary proceedings.
Mr. Kelly said that it was not unusual for officers to patrol rooftops with guns drawn. He said that the victim and the officer were standing three to four feet apart, and that Mr. Stansbury was apparently pushing the door open as one of the officers was pulling it from the other side.
*Originally published on the NY Times.