No charges against cop in shooting

July 10, 2008 8:49:48 PM PDT
The Manhattan district attorney announced Thursday that no charges will be filed against a police officer involved in a deadly off-duty shooting last year. Robert Morgenthau said a New York grand jury has voted not to file criminal charges against Officer Sean Sawyer in connection with the October 21, 2007 incident in which 25-year-old Jayson Tirado was killed.

The grand jury heard testimony from 16 police, medical and civilian witnesses.

The investigation revealed the following information regarding the case:

At approximately 5:45 a.m. that morning, Sawyer was driving his car southbound on the FDR Drive. The officer was off-duty, heading home after socializing with several companions at a bar in Queens. At the same time, Tirado was driving his car southbound on the FDR after meeting with friends and drinking in a park near the Dyckman Street exit of the Henry Hudson Parkway in Washington Heights. A friend, who was intoxicated, was in the front passenger seat of Tirado's car and another friend was in the backseat.

Authorities say a traffic fatality involving a motorcycle caused traffic to slow down around 118th Street and the FDR Drive, and Tirado cut in front of Sawyer's car. No words were exchanged between Sawyer and any occupant of Tirado's car at that time.

Because of the traffic accident, all traffic was diverted onto the exit at 116th Street. At that point, officials say angry words were exchanged between Tirado and Sawyer. According to Sawyer, Tirado started the argument by swearing at the officer and threatening to "knock him out."

According to the backseat passenger in Tirado's car, Sawyer started the argument by stating, with vulgarity, that, in substance, Tirado should "learn how to drive," and threatened to "clap" the occupants of the car. The passenger in the backseat understood "clap" to be a slang word for "shoot." The front seat passenger also stated that Sawyer started the argument and threatened to kill the car's occupants.

After the exchange, Sawyer attempted to get away from Tirado by driving westbound on 116th Street through red lights at both Pleasant Avenue and at First Avenue, and then turning onto First Avenue and heading north. Tirado also sped through the lights and also turned onto First Avenue to try to catch up with Sawyer.

Tirado succeeded in overtaking Sawyer on First Avenue near 117th Street, pulling his car in line with the officer's. Tirado then reached down towards the floor of his car, calling out words to the effect of, "Want to see my new Ruger?" and coming up with his arm extended and his hand stretched out as though he held a gun. Sawyer was carrying his licensed off-duty firearm with him. The officer, believing that Tirado actually had a gun, fired two shots towards the car as Tirado's arm came up. As the shots were fired, Tirado sped off.

One of the bullets from Sawyer's gun went through the passenger side rear window of Tirado's car. It grazed the arm of the backseat passenger and then hit Tirado near his right shoulder blade. The bullet traveled across Tirado's body and exited near the front of his left armpit. The second bullet went through the rear passenger side bumper of Tirado's car and ended up in the trunk.

Tirado drove approximately three more blocks before the backseat passenger noticed that the car had slowed down and that Tirado had slumped over. The passenger stopped the car by pulling the emergency brake, grabbed Tirado and noticed that he was bleeding. A friend of Tirado's was riding in a second car. The friend arrived and attempted to give Tirado CPR. Meanwhile, the backseat passenger flagged down a police officer, who immediately called for an ambulance. Tirado was pronounced dead at Harlem Hospital at approximately 6:12 a.m.

According to Sawyer, when he saw Tirado's car stop at 120th Street, he feared that Tirado was about to start a gun fight. For that reason, he said he turned off First Avenue and drove to his apartment on the West Side of Manhattan.

Sawyer did not learn that Tirado had been struck by his bullet and killed until the early morning of October 22, 2007, when he was watching the news. At around 1 a.m., nearly 19 hours after the shooting, he walked to the nearest avenue with the intention of hailing a cab and driving to the precinct to report what had happened. On the avenue, he spotted a police sergeant in a patrol car. He flagged down the sergeant, reported what had happened and turned his firearm over to the sergeant.

"I'm sure that most people would be shocked to learn that it is not a crime for a police officer to leave the scene of a shooting without reporting it as soon as practicable," Morgenthau said. "I share their outrage. But, that is the law. As a result of this case, we will be submitting legislation to change that."

Leaving the scene of a shooting is not a violation of the New York State Penal Law, but it may be a violation of the New York City Police Department's Patrol Guide. As a result, Sawyer will face administrative review by the New York City Police Department and faces sanctions ranging from suspension to dismissal from the force.

Sawyer was assigned to the Queens Narcotics Bureau and he is currently suspended with pay.