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Fatal Shooting of Suffolk Man was an Accident, Police Say

April 21, 2002
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Fatal Shooting of Suffolk Man was an Accident, Police Say

by Elissa Gootman, New York Times

Suffolk County police officer accidentally shot and killed a 20-year-old man during a botched drug raid Friday night, the police said.

The shooting occurred at 10:40 p.m., the police said, as officers from the Police Department's emergency services division prepared to raid a house in Bellport, N.Y., where they believed drugs were being sold by armed dealers.

As a group of four officers neared the front door, the police said, two men opened the door and walked out. The officer leading the raid, who was carrying a 9-millimeter submachine gun, stopped short. The officer behind him tripped over a tree root and bumped into the lead officer, setting off his gun, the police said.

Three shots were fired from the gun, and one hit Jose Colon, 20, in the head, said Detective Lt. John N. Fitzpatrick, commander of the Suffolk County Police Department's homicide squad. Mr. Colon was pronounced dead early Saturday morning at a nearby hospital.

At a news conference Saturday, police officials apologized to Mr. Colon's family. "This was completely an unintentional act and a tragic mistake," Lieutenant Fitzpatrick said yesterday. The homicide squad and internal affairs bureau are investigating and will report their findings to the Suffolk County district attorney's office, he added.

Mr. Colon was mourned yesterday at the Victory Church of God in East Patchogue, where his family attends services and his uncle is a pastor.

"Everybody was crying in church," said Adrian Ramdoo, a relative of Mr. Colon's and a member of the church. "I broke down and cried today myself." Mr. Colon's grandfather, Charles Seaton, said his grandson had been studying draftsmanship and photography at Briarcliffe College on Long Island and was working in graphic design.

Lieutenant Fitzpatrick said yesterday that just before the gun went off, officers had asked Mr. Colon and the other man who stepped outside, identified as Aaron Hatcher, 20, to drop to the ground. Mr. Hatcher had complied, the lieutenant said, but Mr. Colon had not. "He was still moving down the steps toward the officers," the lieutenant said. "If he's moving toward them, they're not going to continue to rush him, which probably led to the lead man stopping."

Mr. Colon did not have weapons or drugs with him, the lieutenant said.

The police would not identify the officer whose gun discharged yesterday, but Newsday reported that he is Tony Gonzalez, a 14-year veteran of the Police Department.

In the raid, the police recovered at least eight ounces of marijuana and a loaded semiautomatic rifle from the house, Lieutenant Fitzpatrick said, and arrested four men on charges of second-degree marijuana possession. The police said no one lived at the house. Aside from the men arrested and the drugs seized, the police found little more inside than a pit bull and a chair.

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