As I await a flight to Washington, DC, I am transfixed by the media coverage surrounding the tragic death of Reynaldo Cueves, age 20. Cueves was an innocent victim of several criminals who chose to perpetrate an armed robbery on a Bronx business. My condolences go out to the family of Reynaldo, as well as my heartfelt concern for the police officer, who was also an innocent victim of the same perpetrators.
On September 7, NYPD officers from the 42nd Precinct and the Housing Police from PSA 7, responded to an armed robbery call at a corner store or “bodega.” Cueves fled the bodega right behind his uncle, the store manager. Both men ran towards the direction of a responding officer who was on foot. The officer reportedly drew his weapon on the men, he observed fleeing the crime scene.
The NYPD officer did not discharge his weapon immediately when confronted with the first fleeing victim. However, as Cueves also ran from the bodega seeking safety, he appears in security video to have physically collided with the officer. Seconds later, a tragic moment occurred, which will forever change the lives of all of Cueves’ family, as well as the life of the police officer involved.
When Reynaldo and the cop collided, the officer discharged one round accidentally. I reviewed an Internet video of the incident. I am riveted by the event because I will certify as a Force Science Analyst during this trip. As tragic as this incident is, law enforcement can learn from it. I am keenly interested in gleaning all the lessons learned, so that LEOs can learn how to avoid similar incidents in the future. An OIS like this calls for professional insight when all the facts are in place and reviewed by experts. Sadly, this case will instead be tried by the media.
NYPD acknowledged an accidental shooting occurred. However, not everyone understands the incident in the same way. Obviously, due to the loss of innocent life, this OIS is very sensitive. My fellow New Yorkers are asking, “How did a police officer fire on an unarmed man fleeing from a robbery? NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly has offered a brief explanation. NYPD investigators, along with the District Attorney’s Office, will investigate all the facts.
Only those directly involved with the facts and circumstances of a police investigation are qualified to determine if the actions taken by those present were appropriate and what follow up, if any, is required. The sensitivity and emotion of this incident as well as others like it can only be addressed with logic and reason by recognized law enforcement best practice models.
I enrolled in the FSI’s certification program to receive expert qualification and shed light on terrible situations such as this one. Through extensive research, FSI researchers have enhanced our ability to understand police use of force issues. The CEO, Dr. Bill Lewinsky’s research, has helped all law enforcement professionals understand the link between officer’s action/reaction parameters as well as perception, attention, memory, and judgment.
All LEOs know that life can change in a nanosecond. New York City police and the DAs office are in the midst of gathering all the facts before a rush to judgment. This should be the case in any officer involved use of force. This is why the recent decision by LAPD Chief Charlie Beck to publicly castigate officers involved in a controversial incident before the investigation is complete serves no useful purpose.
Such statements only infuriate the community, which Beck is attempting to pander to, while demoralizing his department. Contrast this behavior with the comments of NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, who supported his officers and initiated an investigation. Sometimes the first instinct is to throw officers “under the bus,” but all LEOs are entitled to the constitutional right to a presumption of innocence that all citizens possess.
I reviewed, frame by frame, the security cam video of Cueves’ death as posted on the front page of the New York Post. Two frames are both time stamped at the same time 13:50:50, that is, 1:50 p.m. and 50 seconds, the exact moment Reynaldo’s life came to a premature close. The extreme nature of the split-second decisions LEOs must make are shown in this example. In the first frame, time stamped at the 50-second mark, Reynaldo is colliding with the officer. In second frame, at the same time, his life ebbed away. Same time, same place, same location – two different actions. Life changes that quickly.
Reynaldo Cueves died a needless and tragic death because of the choices of others in his Bronx community to prey on their neighbors. Reynaldo worked side by side with his uncle in the family-owned bodega. The thugs who caused his death chose to steal. Christopher Dorsey, Ernesto Delgado, and Orlando Ramos were charged Friday with felony murder, in the innocent death they caused as they stole Newport cigarettes, scratch-off lottery tickets, and $718. This is apparently what life is thought to be worth by some residents of Morrisania neighborhood of the Bronx. To Cueves’ grieving family, his memory is priceless.
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Jim Gaffney, MPA is LET’s risk management /police administration contributor. He has served with a metro-New York police department for over 25 years in varying capacities, including patrol officer, sergeant, lieutenant, PIO, and executive officer. He is a member of ILEETA, IACP, and the IACSP. Jim received the Medal of Honor upon graduating from Iona College. He then completed a two-year study evaluating the Victim-Offender Overlap. Jim graduated Magna Cum Laude upon receiving his Master of Science in Public Administration. Jim mentors the next generation of LEOs by teaching university-level criminal justice courses as an adjunct professor in the New York City area.