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25 Aug, 2012 10:29

Empire State Bldg shooting: All by-standers injured by police; dramatic surveillance video released

Police appear to be at fault for all nine people injured during the recent shooting incident in the shadow of the Empire State building, says NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly.

“It appears that all nine of the victims were struck with either fragments or by the bullet fire by the police,” Kelly said to journalists Saturday.Stray gunfire split flower pots and other nearby objects as two police officers opened fire chasing Jeffrey T. Johnson, who is suspected of shooting to death his former co-worker minutes earlier. Before Johnson himself was killed by police, three by-standers were struck by officers bullets, with six more receiving injuries from ricocheting fragments, Kelly explained. None of the injuries have been deemed life threatening, with some of the wounded already being released from hospital.

‘Police had no choice’

New surveillance camera footage has been released by the New York Police Department to give a closer look at Friday’s tragic events in Manhattan.The video clearly depicts two officers calmly approaching the slow-moving suspect, Jeffrey Johnson, at which point the latter draws his weapon, pointing it at the officers threateningly. The peaceful crowd of morning tourists suddenly turns chaotic, racing away from the scene the moment weapons are drawn. Johnson goes down almost immediately, felled by 16 police rounds.“You wouldn’t make him as somebody who had just killed somebody,” NYPD chief spokesman, Paul J. Browne said, commenting on Johnson’s slow movements, which might have been an attempt to blend into the crowd.One officer fired seven shots, the other nine. At least seven shots struck Johnson.NYPD Commissioner Kelly said Saturday the officers who confronted Johnson had "a gun right in their face" and "responded quickly, and they responded appropriately.""These officers, having looked at the tape myself, had absolutely no choice," Kelly stressed.While original witness reports state that Johnson may have fired on the police first, current ballistics suggests that Johnson did not have time to open fire. “We don’t have ballistics to support that,” Browne said.

An old grudge and a history of threats

As the investigation into the shooting progresses, more has come to light about the history between the shooter, Johnson, and his victim, Steven Ercolino. Although it was widely reported that Johnson, a designer, had been laid off by Hazan Imports, details of a larger and simmering feud between the two men has begun to emerge.Johnson had been laid off from Hazan imports as early as 2011 in a company downsizing. However, before he was fired, he was already having confrontations with co-worker Ercolino. The latter worked in the sales department, and colleagues say there was long-standing animosity between the two. “You chalk it up to two guys being around each other too much,” one longtime co-worker said of their hostile relationship in the New York Times.“As time goes by, you could walk down the hallway and see an elbow being thrown or a shoulder being shoved, or a comment.”After Johnson was fired, he blamed Ercolino. Months later, the two had an altercation in an elevator in April of 2011. “Steve was leaving the elevator, Jeff was walking in, and Jeff elbowed him,” Ms. Timan, a former co-worker told the New York Times. “Steve had finally had enough, so he grabbed Jeff by the throat, and said, ‘If you ever do anything like this again, I’m going to kill you.’ ”Both men ended up filing police reports that the other had threatened them. As fate would have it, they showed up at the police precinct separately, on the same day, within minutes of each other.The escalation finally ended on Friday when Johnson, in the same gray suit he always used to wear to work, walked out from behind a parked van and confronted Ercolino on his way into the office. He fired five shots at the man he blamed for so much of his misfortune. “A guy with a briefcase just came and just stood right over him and just kept shooting him — boom, boom, boom,” witness Darrin Deleuil told the New York Times. “He looked right at me,” Deleuil said, but never turned the gun on him. “He wanted every bullet for that guy.”