What to Know
- Civilian Rafael Laureano Sr. helped NYPD bust down a door in a Brooklyn apartment building when officers responded to a 911 call in 2014
- As Laureano burst into the aprtment, he got into a fight with the suspect and ended up getting shot in the back by NYPD during the struggle
- Laureano died, and his family now says the police should never have allowed him to be put in danger
Should police allow a civilian to help them in a potentially life-threatening situation?
The family of 51-year-old Rafael Laureano Jr. don't think so. Laureano was shot dead by NYPD officers in 2014 when he tried to help kick in a door, according to a copy of the NYPD firearms discharge report dated December 2016. The report reviewed the actions of police officers who responded to a 911 call in the Midwood section of Brooklyn on Sept. 29, 2014.
Laureano’s children say they don’t understand why it took so long for the NYPD to complete its internal investigation and why he was used by cops "as a human battering ram," as they called it.
Laureano, a competitive bodybuilder, tried to help police kick in the front door of a seventh-floor apartment on Ocean Parkway. By all accounts, he was a good Samaritan trying to rescue a woman inside who was screaming that an ex-boyfriend was trying to kill her and her two children with a knife.
The NYPD report quotes one police officer as stating, "Mr. Laureano, being significantly larger than the officers on the scene, began kicking in the door and succeeded."
Laureano’s son, Rafael Jr., said the NYPD gave conflicting accounts as to what happened inside the apartment: "They told me my father had passed from stab wounds. And they never mentioned that he was shot or anything like that.”
His sister, Justica Laureano, said, "It bothers me that they lied. It bothers me that anytime we try and get anything from them, they don’t want to give us anything."
The internal NYPD report quotes officers as saying that Laureano burst into the door and got into an altercation with the suspect, who "attacked Mr. Laureano and began swinging the knife at him, and stabbed him."
The autopsy showed that Laureano died from a single gunshot wound to the back. There was no mention of any stab wounds.
Private investigator Eddie Dowd said the evidence shows that Laureano was shot in the back.
"He was never stabbed and died instantly from that shooting," said Dowd.
The family’s representatives said that the NYPD should never have allowed Laureano to be put into danger.
Attorney Abe George, who has filed a $25 million lawsuit on behalf of the family, said, "What went wrong is you can’t use a civilian to break down a door. That’s the bottom line. They essentially blame Laureano for what happened to him."
The lawsuit accuses several officers of attempting to cover up the shooting by fabricating police reports and falsely claiming Laureano was stabbed by the suspect.
Police officers fired 18 rounds, saying they fatally shot the suspect when he tried to attack them with the knife. The woman and her two children were unhurt.
NYPD officials found no violation of policy but recommended tactics retraining for five officers. The report noted, "Even though the officers were dealing with a rapidly evolving situation, their efforts, especially with the supervisory oversight present on the scene, should have been more assertive to limit the involvement of Mr. Laureano during the incident."
Jon Shane, a police tactics expert and Professor at John Jay College, reviewed the report for the I-Team.
He said he believed there was no violation of policy.
"There’s not a policy for every conceivable situation a police officer is going to encounter," he said. "This person was willing to help, he enabled the police to get into the apartment, and it was either risk his safety or risk the safety of the other person behind the door. That’s the catch-22."
Shane said he believes the Laureano case, now that it’s publicized, will be used as a training scenario for police departments around the country.
The Laureano children said that’s little comfort to them.
"It just seems like a slap on the wrist, and go about your business, and that just leaves room for more officers to make mistakes like that," said Laureano Jr.
The NYPD said it doesn’t comment on ongoing litigation. The New York City Corporation Counsel, which is representing the officers named in the lawsuit, has filed a response denying the allegations in the complaint.
A spokesman for the Law Department added the incident was unfortunate but maintains the city was not negligent.