Paraplegic Says He Was Shot in Back by Police
TRENTON, N.J. (CN) - A teen-ager who used a blank gun to protect himself from a gang mugging was shot three times in the back by police, the third time as he lay helpless on the ground, rendering him paraplegic, the man claims in Federal Court.
Victor Rodriguez sued the City of New Brunswick, its Police Department, mayor and police chief, the Middlesex County Sheriff's Department and sheriff, two police officers and a sheriff's deputy.
Rodriguez says he was "peacefully" leaving a restaurant in New Brunswick around dinner time on Jan. 31, when "Suddenly, a group of African American men, whom Rodriguez perceived to be gang members, surrounded Rodriguez in an intimidating manner, causing him to fear for his life."
The complaint continues: "Specifically, the gang members demanded Rodriguez give them his sneakers and attempted to rob him. The gang members yelled the word 'blood' in gang slang, causing Rodriguez to fear for his life. Rodriguez reasonably believed that his life was in imminent danger."
Rodriguez says he was 19, "of slender build," and had no experience of being mugged. "Unbeknownst to Rodriguez, an unmarked law enforcement vehicle was already parked near the corner of Seaman Street and Remsen Avenue. In the vehicle were [defendant] NBPD Officers [Christopher] Bornheimer and [Andrew] Weiss, as well as an unidentified officer of the Middlesex County Sheriff's Department."
Rodriguez claims the undercover cops watched the "imminent assault" on him by the eight gang members, but did nothing to stop it. He says he ran away from the gang, into the street, "to retrieve a blank gun from his backpack," and fired two blank rounds into the air. He says he "did not point the gun at any person, at any time."
Then he hightailed it away from the gang of eight, and ran past the driver's side of the unmarked police car.
"Instead of issuing a warning or command, the law enforcement officers opened fire on Rodriguez after he had already run past the car, shooting him in the back of his legs and the rear of his body," the complaint states.
The shots made him "sprawl forward on the ground" and the blank gun slid from his hands "to the other side of the street."
"At this point, Rodriguez could still feel and move his lower extremities," the complaint states. "Rodriguez could feel the pain in his legs caused by the initial shots.
"As Rodriguez was lying on the street face down with his hands extended outward, one of the law enforcement officers (who apparently had been sitting in the back of the unmarked police vehicle) exited the rear-passenger side door and moved to the rear of the vehicle. As Rodriguez lay face down, posing no threat whatsoever, this law enforcement officer shot Rodriguez again, this time in the middle of Rodriguez's back. This caused Rodriguez's lower body to go numb.
"At no point prior to the shooting did any of the law enforcement officers identify themselves as law enforcement officers.
"At no point prior to the shooting did any of the law enforcement officers demand that Rodriguez stop, freeze or drop the blank gun.
"At the time the law enforcement officers shot Rodriguez, he did not present a threat to any person and had not pointed a weapon at any person.
"After being shot in the back, Rodriguez is now a paraplegic and permanently disabled."
Rodriguez seeks compensatory and punitive damages for civil rights violations.
He is represented by Joseph Ginarte, with Ginarte, O'Dwyer, Gonzalez & Winograd, of Newark.
New Brunswick, pop. 55,200, is an exurb of New York City. Its estimated median household income of $45,173 is 34 percent below the state median of $68,342, according to city-data.com.