Bronx, NY – A heroin addict who was shot by police after he dragged a New York Police Department (NYPD) officer with his car got an $11 million payday from a Bronx jury on Wednesday.
A city attorney said the shooting occurred just before noon on Feb. 1, 2006 after then-27-year-old Raoul Lopez skipped a stop sign at East 169th Street and Grand Concourse, the New York Post reported.
NYPD Sergeant Philippe Blanchard and Officer Zinos Konstantinides initiated a traffic stop and told Lopez to turn off his engine.
Lopez, who was in the middle of a two-week-long bender and had just scored a fix, refused to comply with the officers’ instructions.
Court documents said that when Officer Konstantinides reached into the car to take the keys out of the ignition, Lopez hit the gas, the New York Post reported.
He proceeded to drag the officer with his car into busy traffic on the Grand Concourse.
The city attorney wrote in court documents that Sgt. Blanchard was afraid “that his partner would be maimed or killed if he did not take immediate, forceful action,” the New York Post reported.
So the sergeant fired a single shot and struck Lopez in the neck.
But Lopez told the jury that the officers had ordered him at gunpoint to hand over a bag of drugs, the New York Daily News reported.
The heroin addict, who had 19 arrests and 13 convictions under his belt, told the jury that he accidentally dropped the bag of drugs and that Sgt. Blanchard shot him in the back of the neck when he tried to pick it up.
Lopez was transported to Lincoln Hospital for surgery and was ultimately left with partial paralysis on the right side of his body as a result of the bullet that struck his spinal cord, the New York Post reported.
He was arrested and charged with vehicular assault but eventually acquitted of that charge.
Lopez filed his lawsuit against the city in 2007, according to the New York Daily News.
Court documents showed that his attorney, Brett Klein, asked the jury to award Lopez $6 million to $9 million for lost wages as a result of the shooting despite the fact that Lopez was unemployed when he was shot.
The trial in Bronx Supreme Court lasted seven days, but the jury returned its verdict after only one hour of deliberation, the New York Daily News reported.
The jury voted unanimously to award Lopez $11 million despite the fact he’d been in the process of trying to kill a police officer when he was shot.
“Raoul Lopez was an unarmed motorist who was needlessly shot in the back of his neck during what the police described as a routine traffic stop,” his attorney said in a statement shortly after the verdict was announced. “We are grateful that a Bronx jury has held the City accountable for this wrongful shooting.”
An internal NYPD review determined that Sgt. Blanchard’s shooting of Lopez to save Officer Konstantinides was “not within department guidelines,” the New York Post reported.
Despite that, the city has stood behind the sergeant’s version of events.
“The split-second response by an officer likely stopped this driver from dragging an officer to his death, a response we believe was justified under the circumstances,” city law department spokesman Nicholas Paolucci said in a statement. “We strongly disagree with this verdict and are reviewing the city’s legal options.”
Officer Konstantinides has since retired from the NYPD, but Sgt. Blanchard remains on active duty in the Bronx, the New York Post reported.