The Associated Press is now reporting that a New York City police gun probably killed 23-year-old Luis Soto in a Harlem shootout Sunday morning. Only one of the six bullets that hit Soto was retrieved from his body, and officers say that bullet was consistent with bullets from NYPD guns.
New York police fired 46 bullets at Soto and another man, Angel Alvarez, after the two heatedly quarreled. Law enforcement experts say it's too early to tell whether that hailstorm of bullets from police officers was excessive.
Jon Shane, a former captain in the Newark Police Department, says police officers are under no obligation to stop shooting if there is a continuing threat to their lives or to the lives of third persons. "People do not go down when they get shot," says Shane, "so if I fire at you and hit you, and you don't go down and you continue to threaten me or that third person, I can continue to fire."
Shane says this rule applies even on a crowded street. Three people reported to be bystanders were injured by the gunfire.
Police training expert Maki Haberfeld at John Jay College agrees with Shane. She says 46 bullets may seem like a lot, but it's hard to second guess whether that was one too many bullets when police officers perceive an ongoing threat. "Police officers are not medical doctors," says Haberfeld. "They cannot immediately assess -- and I doubt even a medical doctor could immediately assess -- if somebody does not pose any more danger because there were five or six or 10 bullets in him or her."
Haberfeld notes there are many instances in which individuals with dozens of gun wounds are still able to seriously harm police officers. Reports say Alvarez survived the gunfight with dozens of bullet wounds.
The police say Soto had a gun when they arrived, but NYPD spokesman Paul Browne says Alvarez gained control of the weapon and fired on an officer before that officer and other cops returned fire.