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Excessive-Force Verdict Upheld in Officer-Involved Shooting Case

U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel said the jury was within its bounds to find Det. Edwin Mateo used excessive force during a deadly interaction with a emotionally disturbed Manhattan man in 2012.

By Colby Hamilton | May 22, 2018

U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel of the Southern District of New York denied Monday an attempt to have a jury’s verdict of excessive force against a New York City Police Department detective overturned or, in the alternative, for a new trial over the September 2012 shooting death of Mohamed Bah.

In November 2017, a Manhattan jury found six of the responding officers involved in the fatal shooting of Bah not liable for his death. However, Det. Edwin Mateo was found to have violated federal excessive force and state law battery claims. The commanding officer, Lt. Michael Licitra, was found to have violated federal and state failure-to supervise claims. The jury awarded Bah’s estate compensatory damages of more than $2.2 million, putting the city on the hook.

The defendants argued that, among other things, both Mateo and Licitra were entitled to qualified immunity.

In his order denying Mateo’s relief, Castel revisited evidence at the trial that indicated the detective fired a lethal shot at Bah’s head from approximately two feet, after both had dropped to the ground. Just before shouting for the officers present to open fire on Bah, who Mateo said he believed was attacking him with a knife, another officer inadvertently hit Mateo with a stun gun, dropping the detective to the floor. The flurry of gun fire from multiple officers also dropped Bah to the floor, ahead of the head shot evidence that suggested it was fired by Mateo.

Castel said the excessive-force finding against Mateo by the jury should stand and his qualified immunity claims denied, even under the circumstances where a threat was present.

“The fact that the person may have engaged in some form of threatening conduct in the moments before the shooting would not justify shooting him after he ceased posing a threat,” Castel wrote.

Additionally, Castel noted that the defendants failed to submit questions that could have clarified events to grant the immunity claims. As the judge noted, there were no questions, for example, about whether “the sequence and speed of firing was such that a reasonable officer would not have reassessed the threat of death or serious physical injury after firing each shot.” Failing to do so was “crucial to resolving” the defendants’ motions.

“Evidence developed during discovery that supported this version of events precluded summary judgment, yet defendants made no attempt to present questions to the jury that would allow the jury to dispel this version of events,” he wrote.

While denying Mateo’s motions and both defendants’ request for a new trial, Castel did grant Licitra’s request to drop the supervising officer liability verdict, as “[t]here was no evidence at trial that Licitra ordered Mateo to engage in the use of excessive force, and plaintiff never argued otherwise.”

In a statement, Newman Ferrara of counsel Debra Cohen, who represented Bah’s family, said she and her clients are “very gratified” the jury’s verdict against Mateo was upheld.

A spokesman for the city’s Law Department said the city was reviewing the decision to determine what further action to take.