By Tom Hays
NEW YORK — A city police officer shot and killed a bodega worker who plowed into the patrolman on a sidewalk while frantically fleeing an armed robbery early Friday — a sudden encounter that the New York Police Department called a tragic accident.
Police said they were seeking second-degree murder charges against three alleged bandits, claiming their actions caused the death. Prosecutors had no immediate comment.
Dramatic security video released by police shows the uniformed officer, his gun drawn, positioned outside the Bronx shop's front door moments after a 911 call. In a flash, the store manager rushes out the door. Closely behind with his head down is Renaldo Cuevas, who runs full speed into the officer, sending both men tumbling to the sidewalk.
A pool of blood appears to form on the ground the instant Cuevas lands on his back. The officer is kneeling and pointing his semiautomatic at Cuevas when the video clip ends.
Investigators believe the impact of Cuevas running into the officer caused the patrolman to fire one round, striking the 20-year-old victim in the left shoulder, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said at a news conference. Cuevas died later at the hospital.
Though the death appeared to be an accident, the officer was placed on desk duty pending an investigation — a routine practice for all NYPD shootings. Officials refused to release the name of the seven-year veteran of the force.
There was no sign that the shooter and other officers at the scene mishandled the situation, Kelly said.
"The tragedy here of course was that Mr. Cuevas was shot, but I see nothing wrong with the procedure," he said.
Added Kelly: "We want to extend our deepest condolences to the family of Mr. Cuevas for their loss."
The fatal shooting came two weeks after two police officers wounded nine people by shooting a total of 16 rounds at an armed murder suspect, leaving him dead in the shadow of the Empire State Building. The bystanders all were struck by police gunfire, ricochets and fragments.
Felix Mora, the manager of the bodega that was robbed Friday, told reporters he was closing up with Cuevas — the bodega owner's nephew — well after midnight when the three men barged in and one pointed a gun at them. One warned, "Don't move, I will kill your son if you move," he said, explaining that they thought Cuevas was his son.
"I was so scared. I was just praying for the cops to come," the 43-year-old Mora said.
When officers arrived, they looked through a window and saw Mora and Cuevas being held hostage at gunpoint, police said.
Another security video shows a masked gunman hitting the manager with a pistol as he pushes both men to the floor. It also shows one of the bandits peering out the window, then — apparently realizing police were there — bolting to the back of the store, giving the victims a chance to slip away.
Mora told investigators he had heard one of the men yell, "Policia! Policia! Policia!"
After the shooting, one of the suspects quickly surrendered. The two others retreated to the basement and remained inside until police threatened to send in a dog, Kelly said.
One of the men emerged around 5 a.m., claiming to be a victim. Police found the second man tied up inside as part of the ruse, police said.
Police found a .32-caliber handgun and the suspects' backpack, which contained $718 in cash, cigarettes and scratch-off lottery tickets.
Across the street from the bodega, Cuevas' friends set up candles and put up hand-drawn posters on the wall that included messages reading, "RIP Reynaldo" and "We want justice."
Mora called Cuevas "a good kid, a hardworking kid, a happy kid."
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Copyright 2012 Associated Press