NYPD investigators probing the fatal friendly fire incident that took the life of Det. Brian Simonsen earlier this month cannot tell which officer’s gun fired the fatal shot, even though the round that killed him was recovered, police said Friday.
“The ballistics examination was inconclusive, i.e. we are not able to determine which firearm it came from,” NYPD spokesman Chief Patrick Conry said. Simonsen, a 19-year police veteran, grew up in Jamesport and had lived in Calverton for the last decade.
In addition, the round that struck Simonsen’s partner, Matthew Gorman of Seaford, in the thigh has not been recovered during the firearms discharge investigation, Conry said.
The inability of police to determine from ballistic examination which gun fired the bullets that struck the two during the botched robbery essentially leaves all the officers who survived, including Gorman, facing uncertainty about who fired the fatal shot.
The police Firearms Investigation Division is still sorting out details of the shooting and has examined the police guns involved, Conry said. Officials said body-camera and surveillance video was being reviewed and might eventually shed more light on the events.
It was unclear why the particular fatal round in the Simonsen case couldn’t be matched to a gun. Police and forensic experts said it is common to match a bullet to the gun that fired it, except when a round strikes a concrete or metal surface or is damaged by a ricochet.
“It takes a great deal to deform a bullet,” said Jon Shane, a former Newark police captain who is an associate professor of police management at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan.
Certain human bones, such as the femur or pelvis, can deform a bullet, but not the relatively thin sternum or chest bone, said former New York City Medical Examiner Michael Baden. Simonsen was hit in the middle of his chest, officials have said.
Conry, however, said that ballistic evidence sometimes can’t be matched to particular guns. “It is not that unusual for us not to know which gun fired [a] bullet,” Conry said, but he didn’t elaborate.
Simonsen, 42, and Gorman were struck by police rounds after they responded to a robbery at a T-Mobile store in Richmond Hill the evening of Feb. 12.
They arrived at the store simultaneously with six uniformed cops. Officials said Gorman entered the store with two of the officers while Simonsen was outside the front door. The three inside retreated when the robbery suspect, Christopher Ransom, approached with an imitation handgun, police said.
Ransom rushed the officers and simulated firing with his imitation gun, NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan said after the shooting.
In response, all of the cops, including Simonsen and Gorman, fired at Ransom a total of 42 times in about 11 seconds. In the fusillade, Simonsen was hit by a single police round and Gorman was wounded in the leg, according to Deputy Chief Kevin Maloney, who is heading the police firearms investigation. Ransom was hit several times and was hospitalized. Neither Simonsen nor Gorman was wearing one of the protective vests that are required under police procedures in such operations, Maloney said.
Ransom, 27, and a suspected accomplice, Jagger Freeman, 25, face murder, robbery and other charges in connection with the incident.
Friendly-fire fatalities are uncommon in U.S. policing. The last reported incident in New York City was in 2009. Since 2004 there have been 39 in the country, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. Simonsen’s death was devastating to his fellow officers, who turned out in force for his funeral on Wednesday in Hampton Bays.
Edward Mullins, head of the Sergeant’s Benevolent Association, said the inconclusive result likely means no one will ever know which cop fired the shots that struck their colleagues.
“If it’s true that they can’t determine it, then you have to live with it,” Mullins said. “I just think the department is so locked in on this they just don’t think they will change from inconclusive.”
The real issue now, Mullins said, is how the NYPD looks into firearms training and determines what can be changed.
“All we can do now is move forward,” Mullins said.
Correction: NYPD spokesman Chief Patrick Conry's name was misspelled in an earlier version of this story.