DA's disturbing report on ATF agent's death

Members of the FBI Evidence Response Team closed

Members of the FBI Evidence Response Team closed off Merrick Road to gather more evidence outside of Charlie's Family Pharmacy. (Jan. 1, 2012) (Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin)

Joye Brown

Newsday columnist Joye Brown Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006.

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The Nassau County district attorney's office report on the shooting death of John Capano is the first official account of what happened the afternoon the federal Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives special agent died.

The report is raw and it is disturbing:

Capano, we learn, was killed after a retired Nassau County police lieutenant who owned a deli three doors down from the Seaford pharmacy jumped on Capano's back and -- believing the ATF agent had fired a gun near the deli owner's head -- "put his gun to the agent's rib cage and fired."

We learn that there were four guns at the scene. The robber's, the deli owner's, the pharmacist's and one belonging to an off-duty New York City police officer who ran from the deli, along with owner Christopher Geraghty, to help after a pharmacy employee reported that a robber had threatened to "kill everyone."

We learned that Capano, Geraghty and NYPD officer Joseph Arbia fired their guns. The robber's silver pellet gun, it would be determined later, did not work. The pharmacist, according to the report, had grabbed his gun and ran outside before repeatedly asking Capano, as the agent struggled with James McGoey, "John, what do I do?"

He did not fire.

Capano had walked into a robbery in progress. And when confronted by McGoey, he raised his arms and started backing away.

The agent -- in a remarkable show of restraint, given the horrific carnage of a pharmacy robbery in Medford months earlier -- did not draw his gun until after McGoey turned to flee the pharmacy.

Capano screamed at McGoey, "Drop the gun." Instead, McGoey turned a weapon on Capano before turning to run. That's when Capano, pursuing, fired off a round that hit McGoey in the buttocks.

What happened once both were outside apparently wasn't caught by the eight surveillance cameras and other evidence examined by the district attorney's office.

The report's narrative picks up where McGoey's weapon is on the ground and he and Capano are wrestling, chest to chest, both men with hands on Capano's gun.

"Who's the bad guy?" Geraghty would ask, repeatedly, once he and Arbia arrived at the scene.

Capano, according to the report, did not answer Geraghty -- or the pharmacist. It is sobering to consider that the off-duty Capano, after being threatened at gunpoint and chasing a robber from the neighborhood pharmacy, was in a fight for his life.

"I've got your gun," McGoey told Capano, according to the report, "I'm going to shoot you."

The events unfolded in split-second time, according to the report. There was the robbery, the chase, the fight and the intervention by Geraghty and Arbia, who would later, after McGoey ignored a command to show his hands, shoot and kill the robber.

The district attorney's office determined that Arbia, the off-duty officer who killed McGoey, and Geraghty, the retired-officer-turned-deli owner who killed Capano, acted reasonably.

As for Geraghty, the report notes, "Geraghty . . . believed that Capano was attempting to kill him. That belief may have been mistaken, but it was not objectively unreasonable."

The language is antiseptic. But it doesn't take the sting from the untimely death of a decorated ATF agent on a New Year's Eve afternoon.