NEW YORK – A police sergeant was cleared Thursday of claims he violated the civil rights of an emotionally disturbed man in a deadly 2009 shooting.
A federal jury in Manhattan deliberated only two hours before finding Sgt. William Flores was not liable in the death of Mauricio Jaquez in the Bronx.
Jaquez's family had sued the city and various New York Police Department officers, along with Flores, contending that the defendants should be held responsible for excessive force, wrongful death and assault and battery. The family had sought unspecified damages.
Before trial, U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest dismissed most claims but ruled that Flores would face trial as to whether the last of five shots, which entered the back of Jaquez's head, violated Jaquez's civil rights.
The April 2009 shooting occurred after Jaquez's wife summoned police to their home, saying Jaquez, a chef at a family-owned restaurant, was "acting crazy" and shouting that the police were going to kill him, according to court records.
Lawyers for Flores argued the final shot was necessary after Jaquez continued threatening officers with a 6-inch fishing knife despite being hit with four gunshots and multiple rounds of stun gun shocks and rubber bullets.
When Flores testified, he said he fired the final shot because Jaquez still held the knife and was rising off the floor.
"I'm thinking he's going to get up and continue his aggression," Flores said. "And he's pushing himself off the floor with the knife still. Yes, I discharged my firearm one more time."
He added: "I aim for the upper portion of his body, and it seems as though the last shot hit him in the back of the head."
At trial, attorney Zachary Margulis-Ohnuma for the Jaquez estate told jurors the final shot was "unthinkable."
"He pointed the gun at the back of the man's head," he said.
After the verdict, Margulis-Ohnuma said the family would appeal. He said Jaquez's wife and three children were "disappointed that the jury did not see that Mr. Jaquez posed no threat to the officers or anyone else after he had already been shot four times."
Attorney Shira Rachel Siskind, representing Flores, told the jury Flores acted to protect a police detective who was near Jaquez.
"At that point, Sergeant Flores has no idea if any of the shots actually hit him," she said.
Patricia Miller, chief of the Special Federal Litigation Division in the city's law office, said in a statement after the verdict: "This was a tragic case involving the NYPD's response to a distress call involving a man wielding a knife. The jury determined that the split-second decision by the sergeant was justified, and we believe that verdict was consistent with the evidence."