A federal civil court jury ruled in favor of an NYPD sergeant accused of violating the Constitutional rights of a Bronx man he shot in the head, the first such trial of a police officer in New York City in more than a decade.
The jury deliberated for just under two hours.
Sgt. William Flores was charged in the April 2009 shooting of 35-year-old Mauricio Jaquez. The Bronx man was shot five times after his wife, Ana Martinez, called 911 when her husband, who had been using drugs, began ranting that demons were trying to kill him. As the couple’s three children looked on, Jaquez grabbed a hold of Martinez while wielding a knife in the other hand.
Flores and other officers responded. They got Martinez and the children out of the apartment, but an hour-long standoff ensued with Jaquez.
When Jaquez allegedly approached the officers with the knife, the police shot a taser at him. The confrontation moved deeper into the apartment and Flores and other officers shot more tasers and rubber bullets at him. Jaquez wasn't fazed.
Inside the small apartment bathroom, Jaquez allegedly came at Detective David McNamee with the knife, police said. Flores and Detective Raymond Morrissey shot Jaquez, knocking him to the ground.
Officers on the scene said that despite being hit by several bullets, Jaquez appeared to try to push himself up. Flores then fired a sixth and final shot to the back of Jaquez’s head.
After the incident, Jaquez’s widow sued the city and the NYPD in federal court. The case took seven years to reach the trial stage.
In a key decision prior to the trial, Judge Katherine Forrest ruled that the first five shots by police were justified and granted the officers qualified immunity. She instructed the jury that Flores was only on trial for the final shot to the head. She also cited the autopsy report, which called the damage from the final shot to head — as it contributed to Jaquez’s death — “negligible.”
The case may never have reached a trial if Flores had not testified during his deposition that he didn't feel threatened by Jaquez at the point when he fired the final shot to his head.
“I can’t think of anything more callous of reckless than taking that last shot,” Zachary Magulis-Ohnuma, the lawyer for the family, said during his closing arguments Thursday.
Flores said he believed that if he let Jaquez get up “someone would probably lose their life. You would shoot someone by mistake.”
McNamee and Morrissey also testified. Morrissey said that during the first confrontation between McNamee and Jaquez — before any shots were fired —he remembered Jaquez raising the knife “by Detective McNamee’s neck” and almost stabbing him.
“Literally the blade was so far up…I thought it was in [McNamee’s] throat,” Morrissey told the jury. “He’s the luckiest man alive.”
McNamee said that after Jaquez went down from the first volley of shots he came "towards me as the last shot goes,” McNamee said. he said he recalled Jaquez slashing with the knife as he tried to get back up.
The seven-person jury heard emotional testimony from the widow and Jaquez’s 18-year-old daughter Nicole, who was 11 at the time of the incident.
Nicole, who first encountered her parents that morning in the family’s dining room, told the jury that they were talking when she noticed her father “was shaking and his face was red.”
“I wasn’t scared, just confused. I never seen my dad like that before,” she said.
During her testimony, Martinez, his widow, told jurors she was worried about her husband, who was foaming at the mouth and ranting about demons. “Were you scared he was going to hurt you?” asked her attorney, Zachary Margulis-Ohnuma.
“Never,” she said, adding that her husband previously had a similar episode.
In the end, the jury had to decide whether Jaquez was pushing himself up and still holding the knife, therefore posing a grave threat to the officers. They decided he was, finding that Flores did not use excessive force.
In his closing arguments, Flores’s defense attorney, Joshua Lax, said, “The physical evidence shows that this incident unfolded exactly as the officers said it did.” Lax pointed to the evidence that the final shot traveled down at a 45-degree angle — not while he was laying flat on the ground.
On Flores’ prior testimony that Jaquez wasn’t threatening him, Lax said, “he literally meant not threatening in that he was not stabbing or swinging the knife.”
Discussing the other gun shots, tasers, and rubber bullets fired by police, the defense lawyer said that “seemingly no amount of police tactics or force” was able to “bring [Jaquez] under control.”
Lax that when Jaquez didn’t relent Flores had “a single breath” to decide what to do next. “He was caught in a difficult situation…and he did his best.”