In response to a lawsuit filed by the family of a pedestrian who was struck and killed by an on-duty NYPD driver while crossing the street in the crosswalk with the walk signal, the NYPD has said that the pedestrian “assumed risk” by crossing the street, and “contributed, in whole or in part” to his own injuries, Streetsblog reports.
The NYPD is also accused of dispersing witnesses without taking statements, which is a potential civil rights violation.
Felix Coss, a 61-year-old Spanish teacher was crossing Broadway at the intersection of Hooper in Brooklyn in the summer of 2013 when Officer Paula Medrano of the 90th Precinct struck him with a marked NYPD van, as can be seen in the video below. EMTs brought Coss to Bellevue Hospital with severe injuries. He died later that night.
Deli video of the crash shows Medrano stopped at the Hooper Street crosswalk as Coss waited on the opposite side. When the light changes, Coss crosses Broadway in plain view of Officer Medrano who accelerates into the intersection knocking Coss to the pavement, killing him. The NYPD notes Medrano had a green light, but in NYC pedestrians and drivers traveling in the same direction always have green lights at the same time (except in a handful of intersections with dedicated walk signals) and at all intersections turning drivers must yield to pedestrians in crosswalks, a law one would expect an officer of the law to be well aware of.
Indeed, since the crash, the city has initiated a “Vision Zero” policy to eliminated pedestrian fatalities, identifying speeding and failure to yield as the number one cause, and attempting to crack down on those behaviors.
Witnesses claim Medrano was on her cell phone at the time of the accident, another violation. Even though the Internal Affairs Bureau has opened an investigation, the New York Post reported that even though Coss had the pedestrian signal and Medrano was reportedly on her cell phone, “No criminality and no traffic-law violations are suspected,” on the officer’s part.
The family of Felix Coss filed a lawsuit against the city, the NYPD, and officer Medrano, accusing Medrano of reckless driving, using a cell phone, and failure to yield. Yet, the city contends that Coss was the one at fault saying he “knew or should have known in the exercise of due/reasonable care of the risks and dangers incident to engaging in the activity alleged.”
In the court filings the Law Department further explained, “[The] Plaintiff(s) voluntarily performed and engaged in the alleged activity and assumed the risk of the injuries and/or damages claimed. Plaintiff(s) failed to use all required, proper, appropriate and reasonable safety devices and/or equipment and failed to take all proper, appropriate and reasonable steps to assure his/her/their safety … Plaintiff(s)’ implied assumption of risk caused or contributed, in whole or in part to his/her/their injuries.”
Andrew Levine, the Coss’ attorney, said the NYPD and city resisted providing relevant materials including witness statements.
“We believe those statements are going to be very powerful evidence about the conscious pain and suffering that Felix Coss went through,” Levine told Streetsblog. “It feels as though they really put up a stone wall to try and prevent any flow of information whatsoever. They have things in here — that he should have known, that he was engaging in a ‘dangerous activity,’” said Levine. “He’s a pedestrian walking across the street with the walk signal.”
The state’s careless driving law dictates that it’s against the law to fatally strike a pedestrian with a motor vehicle. The actions Officer Medrano took would qualify under this language.
At the time of the crash, Coss’ death was the third pedestrian to be hit and killed by NYPD vehicles in the past 15 months. In February 2012, Ryo Oyamada was struck and killed by an officer on 40th Avenue in Queensbridge. In April 2012, Tamon Robinson was run over and killed by officers in Canarsie who suspected him of stealing paving stones. In addition, Ariel Russo, a 4-year-old girl, was killed during a police chase on the Upper West side during that period of time.
The NYPD patrol guide clearly states that, “a vehicle pursuit be terminated whenever the risks to uniformed members of the service and the public outweigh the danger to the community if [the] suspect is not immediately apprehended.” In the case of Ariel Russo, and several other recent pedestrian fatalities resulting from NYPD pursuits, the risk to the public obviously outweighed the danger of not immediately apprehending people suspected of far less than murder.
Like data on other police-related killings, the NYPD does not keep statistics about fatal police-involved car crashes.
(Additional reporting by Keegan Stephan)