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article imageSeries of misfirings plague elite and high-profile NYPD unit

By Shawn Kay     Mar 15, 2011 in Crime
New York - As of late, the New York City Police Department's vaunted Emergency Service Unit (ESU) has been mired in a series of controversial and embarrassing misfirings of their weapons which insiders attribute to reduced training.
An exclusive report featured in the New York Daily News highlights an increasingly troubling trend of negligent firearm discharges by ESU officers.
The recent incidents portray the elite squad as trigger-happy or amateurish rather than the highly skilled and world-class professionals they are commonly known as.
The Daily News exposé documents at least three separate occasions between last Autumn and January in which at least one stray shot was fired during each of those incidents, with at least one of those mishaps resulting in the serious injury of an elderly man.
Two of the incidents occurred this past November - including one at the famed Rockefeller Center tree lighting ceremony in Midtown Manhattan.
Two Incidents of Stray Shots Fired in November
On the evening of November 30, a member of the ESU sniper team safeguarding the annual holiday festival, accidentally fired a rifle round.
The mishap happened about 90 minutes after the ceremony had finished and the sniper teams were pulling out of their positions.
The inert round struck a building a block and a half away and was recovered by the NYPD No one was harmed in the incident.
The nationally acclaimed annual tree-lighting at Rockefeller Center is the city's way of marking the official start of the Christmas season. As the event is a high profile affair, the NYPD deems it a possible terrorist target which typically qualifies it as an ESU operation.
The annual tree-lighting is attended by thousands with the overwhelming majority being tourists from other states and regions within the U.S. or abroad.
Four days prior to the Rockefeller Center incident, an ESU detective accidentally fired a shotgun round while emerging from his vehicle as he was responding to a report of a barricaded gunman at West 136 Street in Harlem.
The shotgun blast blew out a window in a nearby apartment building but fortunately no one was harmed in that incident either.
Early Hours Drug Raid Goes Terribly Wrong
In the early morning hours of January 22, the third and final accidental discharge occurred and resulted in an unintentional shooting that left an elderly man severely wounded.
In that particular incident an ESU team found themselves in the Soundview section of the Bronx at 3AM, pounding on the door to a residence that contained Alberto Colon, 41, a drug dealer whom the NYPD had a warrant to arrest. He resided at the residence with his two elderly parents - Jose Colon, 76, and Maria Colon.
The banging by the ESU cops at the door woke the elder Colon from his sleep who then got out of bed, scared and in his pajamas, to investigate who would be pounding on his door at such an ungodly hour and for what reason. As he approached the front door, ESU kicked it down and swept into his home.
In an account of the incident as told by Colon to the Daily News, he says that cops flashed a light in his face and shouted, "Don't Move!" At that exact moment he says one of the cops fired a single round that struck him.
That single round tore through Colon's midsection and became lodged in his pelvis.
He says that after he was shot he begged them not to shoot him anymore as one of the raiding ESU officers laid him down on the floor and said, "Don't Move!"
As Colon laid on the floor, the 76 year-old man said he thought he was going to die and began praying. He would wake up in Jacobi Hospital after spending two weeks unconscious, breathing with the aid of a respirator. During his period of convalescence, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly would visit and express wishes for a speedy recovery.
Meanwhile, the true target of the raid - Alberto, was apprehended. Officers also uncovered a small stash of heroin belonging to the suspect.
Colon has recuperated enough that he is now back at home with his wife and is gearing up for legal action. Through Manhattan lawyers Alan Figman and Jonathan Weinrich, he has filed a notice claim, alerting the city and the NYPD that he intends to sue for $20 million.
NYPD sources said the single round fired that struck 76 year-old Jose Colon during the raid was from the 9-mm semiautomatic handgun of ESU Detective Andrew McCormack. The NYPD also said that the light Colon saw before he was shot was that of the flashlight mounted on McCormack's handgun.
He was also reportedly the first member through the door into the dwelling when the raid commenced.
According to further statements from the NYPD, McCormack - an 11-year decorated member of the force - accidentally fired the round while trying to switch on the flashlight attached to his gun.
However, Figman took issue with the NYPD's version of events and told the Daily News that McCormack should have been prepared for an encounter in poor lighting, given the hour of the raid.
"Why not simply turn on the light before the door is battered in?" he argued.
McCormack has been assigned to administrative duty by the NYPD since the shooting occurred.
The Bronx District Attorney's Office is investigating the incident and McCormack could possibly face criminal charges if he is deemed to be negligent in the shooting of the 76 year-old man.
In an odd twist, McCormack is the son of a cop killed nearly 30 years ago. His dad, Officer Joseph McCormack, was fatally shot on Sept. 29, 1983, while on duty in the Bronx.
The elder McCormack, then 40, was also a member of the Emergency Service Unit when he responded to an incident involving a mentally disturbed gunman barricaded in a house on Mulford Avenue in Pelham Bay. The gunman fired a blast from a shotgun that ricocheted off a tree and struck the cop through an opening in his bulletproof vest. Other ESU officers on the scene returned fire, killing the gunman.
When it was discovered that her husband was slain due to bulletproof vest he was wearing being defective, Susan McCormack became a tireless advocate in obtaining improved and updated equipment for ESU members. According to the widowed police wife, her husband had been given a vest that had gaps of protection on the side.
She also started a support group for police widows in the wake of her husband's death..
Andrew McCormick was ten years-old at the time of his father's death.
Andrew and his older brother Joseph Jr., are both NYPD officers and members of ESU. In fact, Joseph Jr. is a NYPD sergeant in the unit.
Joseph Jr. was one of many ESU officers to respond to the World Trade Center on that infamous Tuesday morning of 9/11 when al-Qaida terrorists hijacked four commercial airliners and used two of them to attack the twin 110-story towers at the complex. Joseph Jr. barely got clear of the towers when they collapsed, claiming the lives of 23 other NYPD officers, 14 of whom belonged to ESU
Meanwhile, in a recent interview with The New York Times in the wake of the wrongful shooting by her youngest son, Ms. McCormick from her upstate New York home, ponders the possibility that an equipment failure is the true culprit in the accidental shooting of Colon, much the same way faulty equipment played a primary role in the death of her husband decades ago.
Now with Andrew McCormick, her youngest son, facing possible criminal charges, it would appear more and more as if ESU is somewhat of a tragic legacy for Ms. McCormick and her sons.
NYPD Findings on November Shootings, Focus on Training
The Daily News reports that Chief Charles Kammerdener, head of the Special Operations Division, said the NYPD conducted a review into all of the accidental firings and found that none of the weapons malfunctioned which is another way of saying that all of these incidents are strictly the result of human error.
Though some of the shootings are high-profile in nature, ESU weapon discharges typically represent a small number of the NYPD's overall annual total of accidental discharges.
According to NYPD records for the year of 2009, there were 23 incidents where officers accidentally discharged their weapons with only one of those incidents belonging to ESU While 2010 records show that there were also 23 misfirings by NYPD officers, including the two incidents involving ESU in November.
The NYPD has taken some corrective action in light of the ESU shooting mishaps. As a result of the Rockefeller Center incident ESU sharpshooter training has been revised to high light the weapon's safety position.
However, some unidentified members of ESU who spoke to the Daily News told the publication that the shooting mishaps of late were the result of a reduction in annual refresher training for the elite squad. In particular, they noted the cut of a week-long weapons training course and shooting exercise at Camp Smith or Fort Dix.
NYPD leadership vehemently denies any statements that ESU training has been cut. In fact, they claim the exact opposite and have said that training for the legendary outfit has never been more frequent in the unit's history than it is now.
In response to ESU officer claims of a reduction in training, Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Browne made the following statement to the Daily News:
ESU has never received more training that it has now, because of the terrorist incidents around the world and the fact that they are the front line of an NYPD response. So to try to make such a connection is disingenuous.
Amongst The Very Best at What They Do
ESU is a multi-purpose specialized unit trained to perform the most daunting of rescue operations as well as tactical (SWAT) operations. They are the NYPD's go-to team for the most high-profile, dangerous, complex and sensitive operations. As part of their duties as a tactical team the elite outfit is charged with facing off against the most dangerous and desperate individuals and groups in society ranging from disgruntled gunmen, armed robbers, murderers, gang members and violent drug dealers and even terrorists.
ESU has a national and international reputation for it's diverse skill set and the uniqueness of the operations it tackles. The elite unit takes pride in being able to confront the most complex of crisis situations and effecting favorable outcomes for the NYPD and the city.
As part of their tactical training, ESU is skilled in the execution of hostage-rescue operations and Close Quarters Battles (CQB) with armed adversaries. This type of training is high-level and complicated. It is practiced only by advanced level tactical teams in law enforcement and the military. It is fast-paced and involves the practice of engaging armed adversaries inside of dwellings that may be compact in nature and filled with hostages. ESU itself is one of the best tactical teams in existence in this type of skill.
In hostage rescue and CQB, being able to control your weapon and having trigger control are of paramount importance. The margin for error - if it exists at all - is extremely small. Because many hostage rescue operations take place in close quarters conditions, a discharged stray shot can strike a hostage or a fellow team member or possibly cause unnecessary harm to a suspect. A clear example of the dangers of poor weapons discipline during a close quarters operation would be that of the earlier noted case of the the inert shot fired by McCormack which seriously wounded the elderly Colon during a drug raid.
It is for this reason and others that the recent spat of negligent misfirings by ESU have the potential to be problematic.
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