Omar Edwards, NY Cop, Killed by Other Officer While Chasing Suspect: Could Suspect Be Held Responsible?

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By Javier Lavagnino, Esq. on May 29, 2009 10:29 AM

A tragic story out of New York today where a police officer, Omar Edwards, was shot and killed by a fellow cop last night. The shooting, unfortunately has raised questions about race and the procedures followed prior to the shooting. However, looking at the alleged circumstances of the offense may also make one wonder who could bear the brunt of criminal responsibility in this case.

The New York Times reported on those circumstances, as follows:

"Officer Edwards, a member of the Housing Bureau Impact Response Team, left duty about 10:30 p.m., approached his car and saw that a man had broken the driver's side window and was rummaging through the vehicle. The two scuffled, and the man escaped Officer Edwards's grip by slipping out of his sweater."

Edwards proceeded to chase after the suspected car thief, now suspected to be one Miguel Santiago (previously arrested on charges of robbery, assault and drug offenses). Thereafter, three plainclothes officers in a car encountered Edwards who was running with his gun drawn, and the fatal shooting ensued.

Unfortunately, the shooting has raised questions about whether race played any role, as Edwards was a black police officer, and he was allegedly shot by a white cop. Some have also questioned whether the other officers properly announced and identified themselves to Edwards before the shooting. Although it is too early to tell at this point, another question might be whether the guy who perhaps caused the whole tragic situation, the alleged car thief, bears any criminal responsibility for Edwards' death?

No way, he was just running away right? Well, people might be surprised at how far laws can sometimes stretch to hold criminals responsible for deaths that occur during or immediately after specific offenses. One example would be the legal doctrine of felony murder. In most states, a homicide that occurs during the commission of certain felonies (including the flight from such a felony) is raised to a form of murder, as opposed to manslaughter for example. Some states even allow for the felons to be held responsible for murder if the person killed was an accomplice to the felony, and also if an innocent bystander is accidentally killed by a third party, such as a cop.

However, New York's law limits the rule to an individual committing the felony in circumstances where "he or another participant in the crime causes the death of a person other than one of the participants." It's important to note in closing that Santiago is presumed by law to be innocent, and at any rate, it is unclear whether the underlying crime in the case would even qualify for the rule.