NEW YORK—New York City police commissioner Howard Safir issued a formal apology Monday for the accidental shooting-clubbing- stabbing-firebombing- choking-impaling- electrocution-lethal-injection death of a 38-year-old Jamaican immigrant in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn.
Robert Livingston, who had emigrated from Kingston last July, was surrounded and killed by 27 police officers on April 20 while standing on the stairs in front of an apartment building reaching for what the officers thought was a gun. The object turned out to be a doorbell.
"We deeply regret that this terrible tragedy has happened," said Safir, reading an official NYPD statement at City Hall. "But I must stress that it was understandable given the circumstances. There was no way those officers could have known for certain that Mr. Livingston was not heavily armed and about to kill them."
According to NYPD sources, at approximately 11:30 a.m. on the day in question, a detachment of 12 officers observed Livingston, a delivery driver for a Chinese restaurant, standing at the entrance to an apartment building "acting in a suspicious and aggressive manner." After ignoring the officers' repeated commands to put down the threatening item in his hand, a bag containing a double order of General Chao's Chicken and a pint of rice, Livingston reached for the doorbell. The officers responded by opening fire on his strategic top-of-the-stairs position from point-blank range, discharging their standard-issue 9mm handguns 245 times and striking him with approximately 175 teflon-coated hollow-point slugs.
Defiantly ignoring the officers' orders to freeze, Livingston dropped to the floor and convulsed wildly, kicking and thrashing and hurling blood in all directions.
"It was an extremely dangerous, volatile situation," Brooklyn 26th Precinct Sgt. Raymond Sullivan said. "We were dealing with a man who was out of control and willing to do anything to stop us. It was clear that subduing him would necessitate extreme measures."
After calling for backup, the officers threw 25 phosphorus grenades at the suspect and opened fire with 12-gauge riot shotguns, their vision aided by the illumination of Livingston's body, which was burning at roughly 1,500 degrees. Though most of Livingston's clothes had melted off, officers concentrated their fire on his remaining shoe, which they feared held a concealed weapon.
Once 15 extra officers and an NYPD armory van had arrived on the scene, Det. James McPhee took 10 men to the top of the stairs to engage Livingston in hand-to-hand-combat.
"Mr. Livingston attempted to resist, raising his remaining forearm and striking at the officers' weapons with his face, teeth, knees and genitals," McPhee told reporters. "Acting in accordance with standard police procedure, we countered by stabbing the suspect 59 times in the chest and throat."
Patrolman Edward Caggiano, who sustained a mild bruise when hit by a piece of Livingston's jaw in the melee, then grabbed the suspect's head and began standard-procedure neck-snapping.
According to the officers involved, Livingston's head then attempted to flee the scene by separating from his torso and proceeding down the front steps. "I shouted several times for the fleeing head to halt," Caggiano said. "But the more I yelled, the faster it seemed to roll. After every other option and tactic was exhausted, we were finally left with no choice but to subdue the head with rocket launchers."
Forensics experts said they hope to recover the several thousand missing fragments of the head by next week.
Shortly after 1 p.m., Livingston was finally brought under control when a second team of officers impaled his headless body on a sharpened oak pole. Once the body was skewered, members of the NYPD medical team were given clearance to move in and administer a lethal injection.
Speaking at a press conference Monday, New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani called for the immediate paid suspension of all 27 officers involved in the incident. He also urged Safir to keep the officers suspended "until they can be cleared of all wrongdoing following an extensive internal NYPD investigation that will conclude sometime Friday afternoon."
"And to the families of those officers involved," Giuliani said, "I would like to extend my deepest, most heartfelt apologies. Your loved ones went through a terrible trauma, and I want to assure you that the New York Police Department is doing everything in its power to help them put it behind them."