New York Times Covers H&F Wrongful Death Lawsuit

In today's New York Times, reported Colin Moynihan puts the firm's federal wrongful death action, Pilipenko v. City of New York, 15 CV 6053 (NG) (PK), in the context of other recent police killings, including that of Deborah Danner:

Police commanders began an investigation immediately after a New York City officer fatally shot a mentally ill man on Oct. 3, 2014, inside his parents’ home in Brooklyn. Over more than a year they compiled several reports on what happened, which culminated in one sent to William J. Bratton, then the commissioner.
That report, dated March 30, 2016, said the shooting of the man, Denis Volchkin, had been justified. But it also found that the officer, Richard Moore, and his partner had violated a protocol to call the Police Department’s specially trained Emergency Services Unit when dealing with an emotionally disturbed person or someone who is holed up in a confined space.
“The officers’ tactics were not sound,” the report said, adding that they “should have requested additional resources” but instead “engaged the armed perpetrator, who was isolated and contained inside the house, and created a situation which resulted in the necessity to fire.”
The report was submitted by James P. O’Neill, who was then the chief of department and is now the commissioner. It recommended that the two officers receive what is known as command discipline, which can result in the loss of vacation days. But by the time Commissioner Bratton approved that penalty, about a week later, an 18-month period to impose such a sanction had already elapsed.

Police commanders began an investigation immediately after a New York City officer fatally shot a mentally ill man on Oct. 3, 2014, inside his parents’ home in Brooklyn. Over more than a year they compiled several reports on what happened, which culminated in one sent to William J. Bratton, then the commissioner.

That report, dated March 30, 2016, said the shooting of the man, Denis Volchkin, had been justified. But it also found that the officer, Richard Moore, and his partner had violated a protocol to call the Police Department’s specially trained Emergency Services Unit when dealing with an emotionally disturbed person or someone who is holed up in a confined space.

“The officers’ tactics were not sound,” the report said, adding that they “should have requested additional resources” but instead “engaged the armed perpetrator, who was isolated and contained inside the house, and created a situation which resulted in the necessity to fire.”

The report was submitted by James P. O’Neill, who was then the chief of department and is now the commissioner. It recommended that the two officers receive what is known as command discipline, which can result in the loss of vacation days. But by the time Commissioner Bratton approved that penalty, about a week later, an 18-month period to impose such a sanction had already elapsed.

About two weeks later, a Bronx man, Ariel Galarza, who the police said had been emotionally disturbed and had threatened officers with a bottle, died after being shocked twice by a stun gun. The state attorney’s general’s office said that it would examine that episode.

Both deaths are also under review by the Police Department but it is unclear what, if any, findings or actions will be made public, given the department’s recent decision, citing a state law, to stop making available information about disciplinary actions.

Although Mr. de Blasio has championed transparency, the city Law Department decided last year to appeal an order from a judge to release a summary of misconduct findings against Daniel Pantaleo, the police officer who used a chokehold to subdue Eric Garner during a fatal encounter in 2014 on Staten Island. The mayor’s office has not disputed the Police Department’s interpretation of the state law, but has askedthe State Legislature to change it.

Internal police reports marked “confidential” that were turned over as part of a federal lawsuit by Mr. Volchkin’s parents, Liliya and Boris Pilipenko, outline events preceding the shooting and investigators’ conclusions.

Officers Moore and Koncewicz arrived at a home in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, after Mr. Volchkin’s mother complained that he had choked and threatened her and then placed several knives on a table. The officers saw Mr. Volchkin at the top of a flight of stairs leading to a second-floor apartment, and Officer Moore “drew his firearm at this time and challenged Mr. Volchkin while verbally demanding to see his hands,” according to the reports.

Mr. Volchkin went into the apartment through a rear door and locked it behind him, but Ms. Pilipenko opened one lock and Officer Moore reached through a window to release a deadbolt, the reports said. The officers found Mr. Volchkin sitting on a couch, with four knives on a coffee table in front of him. They drew their pistols. Mr. Volchkin grabbed the knives and stood up as other officers began knocking on the front door.

Mr. Volchkin refused multiple orders to drop the knives and told officers to shoot him as he walked toward them, the reports said. Officer Moore retreated from the living room to the kitchen, according to the reports, and Mr. Volchkin followed. When he kept advancing, Officer Moore, who the reports said had backed up against a counter, fired a single fatal shot.

Officer Moore told investigators that he did not think he could have used pepper spray or a baton, or safely left the apartment. He added that he feared that Mr. Volchkin might attack the officers who had knocked on the front door.

Investigators said that Officer Moore had to fire but also faulted him and his partner, with one report saying they had escalated events. The report to the commissioner cited Police Department guidelines that instruct officers dealing with a barricaded person to slow the pace of the incident, and state that “any action which might provoke or antagonize the subject should be avoided.”

During his deposition, in September, Officer Moore said that if he had known Mr. Volchkin was going to pick up the knives he would have waited outside the apartment and called the Emergency Services Unit. Still, he said, nobody told him that he had made a mistake. He also testified that in 2015, he and Officer Koncewicz were recognized at a gathering of a police fraternal organization, the Honor Legion. As fellow officers, including some chiefs, looked on, Officer Moore said, he and his partner both received certificates for their handling of the Volchkin incident. “Everybody was saying you did a good job,” he added.

He never asked about the results of the internal investigation, Officer Moore testified during his deposition in September.

“You weren’t curious to find out if your conduct was considered good police work, bad police work, something else?” asked Baree N. Fett, a lawyer for Mr. Volchkin’s parents.

“If it was bad, then I would have got something; they would have said so,” he said. “As long as I didn’t get that, I just wanted to move on.”

Read the full story here.