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Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

In a Brooklyn Parking Lot, the End of a Quiet Life

Funeral_2 The church custodian saw him first: a man alone in a parking lot, swinging a folding chair like an ax, bringing it down toward the windshield of a parked van and stopping, an inch from the glass. Then backing up and dancing around with the chair, a strange ballet. Then swinging again, over and over.

The custodian yelled for the man to stop, and turned and ran for help inside the Coney Island church, where police officers chaperoned the truants of Brooklyn and Queens.

A minute later, Officer Dawn Ortiz, gun in hand, was in front of the man with the folding chair. He swung, brushing the chair against her, and in a second she had fired her gun for the first time in her career. The single bullet grazed the man’s wrist and pierced his heart, killing him. He lay on the ground atop the chair.

The shooting did not provoke much attention. The dead man, a 5-foot-8, 153-pound day laborer, had no identification; the police used his cellphone to track down his brother and give him a name: Gilberto Blanco. Still, his body lay unclaimed in the medical examiner’s office for most of a week.

A few hours after the shooting, at 12:45 p.m. on Nov. 13, the police said that the shooting appeared to be within the department’s guidelines. While the man did not have a gun or knife, the department said the officer was at risk of being killed or seriously hurt with the chair, the key criterion justifying the use of lethal force. [Mark Godsey]

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