Ten years after Sgt. Dexter Brown was mistakenly shot in
the back during a buy-and-bust operation in Brooklyn, the city has finally
acknowledged what he and others in the New York Police Department have long
contended: that another cop pulled the trigger.
According to pretrial motions filed earlier this year as part of Brown's
$31-million lawsuit, the city acknowledges that a shot from the gun of Det.
Louis Lopez hit Brown. The incident also resulted in the death of a drug
The city's law department and the NYPD declined to comment, citing the
pending lawsuit, which was filed shortly after the shooting. Lopez, now a
16-year veteran of the department and assigned to the 73rd Precinct, also said
he would not comment.
But in court papers, the city is asking a judge to dismiss the lawsuit,
claiming Brown's shooting was accidental.
"Detective Lopez's conduct, in accidentally shooting plaintiff, was the
type of split-second judgment, that, in circumstances that are tense,
uncertain, and rapidly evolving and must be considered to ascertain the amount
of force that is necessary in a particular situation," says one of the
documents the city has filed with the court.
While the case makes its way through court, Brown, now 45, walks with a
cane and has permanent damage that requires regular epidurals - spinal
injections to numb the pain. He retired on a disability pension, can't work and
now lives with his wife and three children in Mississippi because the harsh
New York winters exacerbate his daily discomfort.
"I have sharp and debilitating pain every single day," Brown said in a
telephone interview. "There's not a single day where I don't have pain. Knowing
my family is there for me helps. I also have my church - and my medication."
Brown, in plain clothes, was shot twice in the back inside the vestibule of
a Clinton Hill building while trying to arrest drug suspect Scott Service, 20,
who was shot multiple times and killed.
Brown said he fired three times, and two other cops who came to his aid
also shot their weapons. Det. Kenneth Cullen fired once, and Lopez fired eight
Police initially said it appeared Brown had been accidentally shot by a
fellow officer. But soon after, the NYPD backed off that explanation. It said
ballistic evidence showed that Cullen's lone shot struck Service - whose family
later collected a $220,000 settlement after filing a federal wrongful death
lawsuit. There was no admission of wrongdoing.
But it wasn't clear who was responsible for Service's other wounds, or for
the two shots that injured Brown, the NYPD has long contended.
In 2000, the Firearms Discharge Review Board, chaired by Chief of
Department Joseph Esposito, ruled the shooting of Brown did not violate
department policy on the use of deadly physical force. Still, there was no
determination about who had fired the shots.
Bonita Zelman, Brown's lawyer, says there was a clear conflict of interest
because Esposito is a named defendant in the civil suit, as he was in charge of
narcotics operations in north Brooklyn at the time of the shooting. Esposito
testified he saw no conflict.
Brown's lawsuit contends that Lopez was reckless in his actions, a claim
Zelman says is backed up by testimony in the case by Louis Anemone, who was
chief of department when Brown was shot.
Anemone retired before the Firearms Discharge Review Board ruled on the
shooting, but he testified in a 2004 deposition that Lopez violated the NYPD's
departmental guidelines regulating the use of deadly physical force by opening
fire. Anemone also said Lopez had other options, including entering the hall
with other officers and overpowering Service.
Brown said he is angry and frustrated it has taken the city 10 years to
acknowledge what he has claimed from the very beginning. He said he is
convinced the NYPD tried to cover up what happened to him because the friendly
fire incident involving the wounding of a minority undercover - Brown is
African-American - has long been a sensitive subject for the NYPD.
"This is about much, much more than the money," Brown says. "I'm very
dejected and taken aback, even to the point of borderline depression. The
police department has put up obstacles to telling the truth. We want the truth
to be told."