The Suffolk police officer who shot an alleged drunken driver after being dragged by the suspect’s vehicle early Sunday morning had no physical contact with the suspect moments before opening fire, officials said Monday.
Michael Shear, 34, of Holtsville, who was shot in the shoulder and remained hospitalized Monday, was in his vehicle at about 2:45 a.m. Sunday in Medford when the officer fired one round from his service weapon, police said.
The shooting occurred after the Highway Patrol officer, whose name has not been released, was dragged by Shear’s vehicle following a traffic stop in Patchogue, police said. The officer was able to return to his patrol car and pursue Shear while radioing for assistance, police said.
Two other Suffolk Highway Patrol units joined the approximately 3 1/2 mile pursuit, which at one point had Shear driving 5 or 10 mph. The pursuit ended when the three police cars boxed Shear’s vehicle in and it stopped on North Ocean Avenue, just south of Long Island Avenue in Medford, police said.
Shear faces charges of drunken driving, with a prior conviction within 10 years; first-degree aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle; second-degree reckless endangerment; and third-degree fleeing an officer in a motor vehicle. It’s unclear when Shear, who police said refused a blood-alcohol test, will be arraigned.
His attorney, Steven Politi, said his client was scheduled for surgery Monday to have the bullet removed from his shoulder. Politi said Shear was convicted of DWI in 2007, but otherwise “hasn’t been arrested in about 10 years and he’s never been arrested for any violent behavior.”
Sunday, Suffolk police released a five-sentence statement on the shooting, saying Shear “did not comply with officer’s commands and resisted arrest.”
Police would not say whether Shear allegedly resisted arrest in the moments before the officer shot him or whether Shear was armed.
He was not charged with weapons possession as of Monday.
The police department declined Monday to give a full account of the traffic stop, pursuit and shooting, citing the ongoing investigation.
Politi said the department has an obligation to release more details.
“The public has the right to know why one of its police officers shot an unarmed citizen,” Politi said.
Suffolk Police Commissioner Timothy Sini, in an interview, said it would be “unbelievably irresponsible” to say at this point whether be believes the shooting was justified.
“I don’t think the public is well served to have a narrative jammed down their throats,” Sini said. “That is exactly what I’m not going to do. There is a tremendous amount of pressure to come out right away with facts. I’m not doing that. I’m not doing it.”
Investigators Monday were still searching for video of the shooting and interviewing witnesses, Sini said, stressing that he’d provide additional information once the internal probe was completed.
“As a police commissioner it would be unethical for me to comment further regarding this incident,” Sini said. “We will do a thorough investigation and we’ll move it along as expeditiously as possible. We’re not going to take shortcuts, we’re not going to rush it. But we’re not going to sit on our hands obviously. . . . Once we have the full picture, the public is going to know. It’s that simple.”
Politi described his client as a “peaceful guy” and questioned why police have so far failed to produce any evidence Shear had a weapon and why the officer couldn’t have used a stun gun to subdue Shear.
“I’m wondering what the need was to shoot him. If it’s a DWI stop, I’m not really sure where gunplay comes in,” said Politi, of Central Islip. “I didn’t hear anything about what he might have done that would warrant being shot. None of the facts released indicated that he had a weapon or grabbed for a weapon.”
The officer was treated and released Sunday for injuries to his right arm and shoulder and a hip, police said.
Noel DiGerolamo, president of the Suffolk Police Benevolent Association, said the officer is recovering.
“He’s very fortunate that given the circumstances encountered he does not have much more significant injuries,” DiGerolamo said. “There was an angel on his shoulder that evening.”