On The Empire State Building Shooting

The news that all the wounded bystanders were injured as a result of police gun-fire will prompt many to condemn the officers who confronted Mr Jeffrey Johnson yesterday morning on a sidewalk in Manhattan. I write in their defence.

As facts dribble out, we have an increasingly complete picture of what actually occurred.  Mr Johnson had a grudge against Mr Steven Ercolino – a manager at a company he had worked at in the past –  and had decided to lie in wait with a hand-gun and to murder him in an ambush as Mr Ercolino walked to work. As Mr. Ercolino walked towards his office from purchasing some food at a coffee shop, Mr Johnson shot him in the head from behind, and fired two more rounds into his torso, killing him.

Mr Johnson then walked away and tried to escape by blending into the crowd of similarly attired people on their way to work.  However, he was trailed by a construction worker.  Mr Johnson’s escape route took him past a police detail, and the construction worker trailing him alerted the officers on that detail that Mr Johnson had just murdered someone and was armed.

Two officers hustled to catch up with Mr Johnson.  They challenged him.  He drew (but did not fire) his weapon, and the police fired 16 rounds in quick succession into him. Bystanders were struck by police bullets, the fragments of the bullets, and fragments of masonry turned into shrapnel by the police bullets.

We at The Liberty Papers are often critical of the government and its agents, but in this case, the police appear to have handled the matter properly. The officers were approached by a citizen and made aware of a serious felony and were pointed to a suspect.

The first choice the officers faced was the question of whether or not to confront Mr. Johnson.  I believe the police did the right thing in confronting him, for several reasons:

First, when people commit murders – especially when they ambush people on their way to work – it is often part of a spree killing – where a person goes to multiple locations, killing all the people they have grudges against in one go.  Had police failed to confront him, who knows what would have happened, who else he might have killed?  After all, Mr Jefferson had several clips on his person – despite clearly planning to fire only a few shots into his victim.

Secondly, had they tried to tail Mr Johnson, they ran the risk of losing him in the crowd. They would have had to abandon their posts to do so.

Thirdly, what if Mr Johnson was innocent and the construction worker was mistaken? In that case tailing him would have distracted police from finding the real killer.

In confronting Mr Johnson immediately after the allegations against him were communicated to them, the police officers were doing good police work.

When Mr Johnson pulled the gun out of his bag, and attempted to point it at the men confronting him, the dynamic then changed.  In effect, he was committing an act of assault on people who happen to be police officers.

In shooting him, the police were defending their lives as any citizen should be able to do in a free society. In shooting that many rounds the police were not guilty of excess – people are rarely killed or incapacitated instantly by a bullet from a handgun and the police appear to stop firing almost instantly after Mr Johnson dropped his gun and flopped down to the pavement. I judge what I see in the video to be a legitimate act of self-defence by the officers.

The person guilty of depraved indifference in this affair is Mr Johnson, who chose to ambush and murder someone on a crowded sidewalk and to initiate a gun-fight on another crowded side-walk. We will never know what Mr Johnson intended to accomplish when he set out to murder Mr. Ercolino, whether he had other people in his sights, or what made him snap.  Those secrets died with him as he lay hand-cuffed, face down, on the pavement. In the end, though, the responsibility for the carnage falls squarely on his shoulders.

In all likelihood, this case will be picked over for what people could have done differently.  Certainly, the accuracy of the police fire, their training, and their doctrine for confronting people like Mr Johnson should be reexamined for possible improvements.  But, at this point, it appears that the police made the correct decisions to confront and then shoot Mr Johnson, despite how awfully everything turned out.

I am an anarcho-capitalist living just west of Boston Massachussetts. I am married, have two children, and am trying to start my own computer consulting company.
  • MingoV

    “In shooting that many rounds the police were not guilty of excess…”

    Bullcrap. The police were eight feet away from the perpetrator. Innocent bystanders were all around. They could have tackled the guy in the time it would have taken him to raise and fire his gun. Instead, they wasted time drawing their own guns and then wildly blazed away with nine of the sixteen bullets completely missing the guy. Mr. Magoo could have done better.

  • http://e-vigilance.blogspot.com ricketson

    Even if they could have subdued him without using their guns, it is at worst an error of judgement. These types of errors are unavoidable when you have to make split second decisions.

    The cops also had to consider their partner’s response. Going in for a tackle while your partner draws his gun could be a big mess. There’d be a good chance that even if you could make contact before getting shot yourself, you wouldn’t be able to prevent your opponent from shooting your partner (who would not be able to return fire, due to your grappling with the opponent).

  • EscapedWestOfTheBigMuddy

    While I wouldn’t argue with most of your analysis–to follow and confront him were, indeed, the right things to do–there are a couple of points which I think are being overlooked here.

    Firstly, the NYPD has a bit a history with its officers blazing away in a uncontrolled manner. At some point the phrase “pattern and practice” beings to intrude itself onto my thinking. Maybe that wasn’t the case here, but I can’t help but wonder.

    Secondly, anyone who wasn’t a police officer would be in considerable danger of prosecution had their rounds wounded a passerby: non-police are held to account for every round that leaves their gun. Somehow I doubt that that is the case here. Moreover ordinary folks would almost certainly face a ruinous civil suit; in this case, however, the wounded may eventually recover from the city but the people who made the decision won’t face any real risk.

  • http://theinternationallibertarian.blogspot.com/ Darren

    MingoV is right in that the cops blasting away on a crowded street were out of line. The idea that they should have tackled Johnson is ridiculous. They should have taken 1 or 2 carefully aimed shots. They obviously panicked which is the cause of the problem.

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