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Homeless Queens bystander shot during hatchet attack on cops plans to sue NYC

Video shows a suspect charging NYPD officers with

Video shows a suspect charging NYPD officers with a hatchet in his hands at the intersection of Jamaica Avenue and 162 street in Queens on Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014. Credit: NYPD

The bystander accidentally shot in the back by a stray bullet fired by officers during the Oct. 23 attack by a hatchet-wielding man on two NYPD rookies from Long Island has filed a claim against the city over her injuries.

Latoya James, 29, a homeless Queens woman caught in the hail of bullets that killed the attacker, had internal organs punctured and is still in pain but faces expulsion from the rehab center treating her back into the shelter system, her lawyer said Thursday.

"Even though police officers have a right to defend themselves, they have to exercise caution in doing so," said her lawyer, Andrew Siben of Bay Shore.

The city, which in the past has opposed lawsuits brought by bystanders that question officers' split-second decisions in emergencies, was noncommittal. "This involved a tragic circumstance, and we will review the notice of claim," said a spokesman for the law department.

During the attack in Jamaica last month, Zale Thompson, 32, struck Officer Kenneth Healey, 25, of Oceanside, in the head with his hatchet, and then struck Officer Joseph Meeker, 24, of Oakdale, in the arm. Other officers reportedly fired 19 shots, killing Thompson.

James, who was living in a homeless shelter at the time, was on her way to a bus stop when she heard people screaming and running, and suddenly felt a burning sensation in her lower back, Siben said.

She was treated at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center and then sent to the Silvercrest Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in Briarwood, the lawyer said, but now has been told that Medicaid is cutting her off. She fears she won't get proper care in the homeless system to fully recover.

"She is still in considerable pain and discomfort, but they want to send her back to a homeless shelter," Siben said. "We're hoping Medicaid will reconsider . . . [she] has no family that can care for her."

Camela Morrissey, a spokeswoman for Silvercrest, declined to comment on James' situation but said, "We do ensure that any issues with a patient's comfort are well-managed . . . When it comes to anyone who requires support from a social services standpoint, our discharge planning includes a focus on that."

The notice of claim filed against the city -- a required step before a lawsuit -- says the cops behaved negligently, carelessly and recklessly when they fired the fusillade of bullets, and discharged their weapons "without adequately securing the scene so as to . . . prevent injury to innocent bystanders."

"Whenever one chooses to use deadly force, you must be aware of your surroundings and public safety," Siben said. "Sadly for Ms. James, she was a victim of circumstance."

Siben said he expects to file suit early next year.

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