A New Jersey man alleges in a federal lawsuit that New Brunswick police shot him in the back, severing his spine, as he lay motionless on the street.
Police officials dispute Victor Rodriguez's account, and say he fired a realistic-seeming starter pistol toward bystanders.
Attorneys for Rodriguez, 19, say he was already shot by police and lying face-down in the street when a second New Brunswick cop shot him in the spine, leaving him confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
Newly released surveillance video captured a portion of the Jan. 31 shooting at the corner of Remsen Avenue and Seaman Street.
According to the lawsuit, Rodriguez was approached by a gang of men who demanded his shoes. Fearing for his life, the lawsuit says, Rodriguez ran across the street and retrieved a starter pistol from his cousin’s backpack and fired two shots into the air. The crowd dispersed and Rodriguez fled the scene with the starter pistol.
“Police have an obligation to follow the law, not violate it,” Rodriguez’s attorney, Alan Zegas, said Tuesday.
New Brunswick police disputed the version of events described in the lawsuit. Police Director Anthony A. Caputo said in a statement that Rodriguez's starter pistol was modeled after a Beretta handgun, and that he fired "the pistol in the direction of police and city residents."
According to the lawsuit, undercover officers were in the area watching. As the teen ran past the unmarked police car, the suit contends that the officer behind the wheel opened fire without warning, striking Rodriguez in the legs.
The teenager was motionless in the street when another officer came around back of the car seconds later and fired a shot into Rodriguez, according to the lawsuit.
“You’ll then see his two legs reflexively move up and it was at that point we believe he lost the use of his legs,” said Zegas.
Through a translator Rodriguez’s mother, Alejandrina Rodriguez, told NBC 4 New York that “all I could think of is, hopefully God will give my son a chance to live to overcome this.”
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