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Kin Say Police Had No Cause to Kill Thief


April 01, 2002
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Kin Say Police Had No Cause to Kill Thief

by Robert F. Worth and Jacob H. Fries, The New York Times

A man who was shot to death Saturday night by a plainclothes police officer after breaking into a van has been identified as a Lower East Side resident with more than 30 arrests on larceny and drug charges, the authorities said yesterday.

But while the police said that the man, Cesar Mercado, 47, had lunged at the officer who shot him, the man's family rejected the police version of events. They said that Mr. Mercado had been arrested for break-ins so frequently that he knew the routine and would never have risked his life by fighting back.

"My brother was arrested so many times - he knew the drill," said Victor Mercado, Mr. Mercado's brother. "He's not going to do something stupid."

Mr. Mercado was shot once in the head shortly before 8 p.m. Saturday near the intersection of Delancey and Forsyth Streets. The police said that Officer Sean Ryan was approaching the driver's side of a white Ford van after another officer had seen the man breaking into it.

A senior police official said that the second officer and a third one, who were together in an undercover car parked on the opposite side of the van, heard Officer Ryan say, "Police, don't move." The officers said they then heard a shot, and Officer Ryan came around the van and said: "He came at me. I think he's shot."

Mr. Mercado died at Bellevue Hospital Center shortly before 9:30 p.m. Saturday, the police said. Hospital workers found a screwdriver and a closed Swiss Army-type knife in his clothing, the police said.

Members of Mr. Mercado's family described him yesterday as a born-again Christian with a serious drug problem who frequently broke into cars to support his habit. But they insisted he had never been violent.

"Either that cop was prejudiced and shot my brother deliberately, or he messed up and shot him in the face," Victor Mercado said in an interview at his apartment last night.

Cesar Mercado's former wife, Teresa Mercado, who relatives said was an officer with the Police Department's Transit Division, said, "I'm very upset at what happened, and I'm too overwhelmed to talk about it right now."

Edward Skyler, a spokesman for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, said the mayor spoke with Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly about the matter yesterday morning, but Mr. Skyler would not elaborate.

According to a senior police official, the case began when Officer Ryan was patrolling the Bowery with two other members of the Fifth Precinct Anticrime Unit, Officer Carlos Nunez and Sgt. Steve Lyle, in a yellow cab. They saw a man approach a van near the corner of Forsyth and Delancey Streets, an area known for break-ins.

The officers stopped the taxi, Officer Ryan got out and walked around Sara Delano Roosevelt Park toward the van, the police said. According to their account, the man had walked away from the van, but then returned, and the officers in the taxi saw him make a swinging motion toward the driver's side window. The van's brake lights went on, indicating that he was inside, and as Officer Ryan approached, the officers in the taxi drove up Forsyth Street, parking alongside the van to prevent any escape.

They then heard the shot, though they could not see what happened, because they were on the far side of the van, the police said. Investigators last night had not yet spoken to Officer Ryan, who is entitled to defer questioning for 48 hours.

Officer Ryan, 29, who joined the department in April 1997, had never fired his gun on duty before, the police said.

The Manhattan district attorney's office is investigating the shooting, the police said.

Victor Mercado said that he had heard several different versions of events from the police and believed the officers lied about his brother's resisting Officer Ryan.

Cesar Mercado's daughter Aphrodite, 29, said, "From what I've been hearing, the cops are exploiting his past and I'm upset."

Victor Mercado said that his brother had worked as a livery-cab driver and as a building superintendent for a housing project in the Bronx. He said that his brother, who lived with their mother, had been a cocaine addict since 1985, but that he always carried his Bible with him and never used a weapon.

He added that Cesar had given Victor's 2-year-old son a gold-colored screwdriver for Christmas in a light-hearted acknowledgment of his method of breaking into cars.




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