NYPD ‘friendly fire’ killed an officer. Investigators seemed to ignore video of police being commanded to ‘stop shooting.’

New records show that investigators allowed police misstatements to stand, despite having body-camera video to disprove them.

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SOURCEProPublica

In December 2019, the New York Police Department released video of a fatal police shooting in the Edenwald Houses, a sprawling public housing complex in the Bronx. Similar videos — recorded by officers’ body-worn cameras — had been made public after other shootings. But this one differed in one key way: In addition to killing a suspect, police had killed one of their own, Officer Brian Mulkeen.

Mulkeen and his fellow officers had been patrolling the area as part of an initiative to get illegal guns off the street. Shortly after midnight, they came upon a man named Antonio Williams, who ran when they identified themselves as police. The video, shaky footage compiled from five body cameras, showed Mulkeen and other officers chasing Williams through the darkness and then tackling him. Williams, it turned out, had a revolver in his waistband.

“He’s reaching,” one officer yelled, as Mulkeen wrestled with the suspect. “Mulk! Mulk!”

Mulkeen fired five bullets into Williams, killing him. But just seconds later, as three other officers ran to the scene to provide backup, they fired their guns toward the two men and struck Mulkeen in the head.

Deputy Chief Kevin Maloney, the head of the NYPD’s Force Investigation Division, explained in the video that the release of the “relevant” footage would help the public “gain a better understanding of the events that led up to the incident.” The footage, he added, would also be a critical component of his team’s “thorough” investigation, which ultimately cleared the officers involved in the shooting that night.

The finding of no wrongdoing aligned with the view of then-Commissioner James O’Neill, who had rendered his own verdict months earlier in Mulkeen’s eulogy. “As every cop knows, one person is responsible for Brian’s death. And that’s the person carrying a loaded, illegal gun and decided to run from the police,” he said. “Every cop knows that, and every New Yorker should know that.”

New Yorkers, however, only saw a small portion of the video footage from that night — and only got a piece of the full story. The complete footage makes clearer just how far the shooters were when they fired and just how poor the visibility was that night as Mulkeen and Williams wrestled in the dark, according to a ProPublica review of the video, which was obtained by the news organization.

In fact, the NYPD’s crime scene measurements show the three officers who shot from the sidewalk were positioned 60 to 70 feet away, a fact that was not publicly disclosed by the department. At that distance, according to their training, the officers had just a coin-flip’s expectation of accuracy. The full video shows two of the officers with Mulkeen dodging the incoming bullets and yelling at their colleagues to “stop shooting.” The unpublished footage also reveals the immediate aftermath. Notably, one of the shooters runs from the sidewalk to the scene — which takes him a full five seconds, underscoring his distance from his target — and starts shouting expletives as he realizes Mulkeen has been hit.

Seven months later, when the FID interviewed the officers who shot their weapons, investigators did not ask about these key exchanges or challenge the officers when their accounts differed from what was captured on video, according to audio of the interviews, which was also obtained by ProPublica. In fact, two of the shooters misstated their distance, giving the impression they were much closer to the action when they fired their guns. Investigators allowed those misstatements — and others — to stand, despite having nearly a half-hour’s worth of body camera footage that disproved them. Detectives conducted relatively short interviews with the officers, ranging between 16 and 28 minutes each, and spent less than half their sessions discussing the actual shooting.

ProPublica requested an interview with Maloney for this story, but he did not respond. The news organization also sent a list of detailed questions to the NYPD and the union representing the officers involved in the case who are still on the force. None of the parties responded, despite multiple attempts to reach them. ProPublica also made several attempts to reach Daniel Beddows, a detective who is now retired but was also involved in the case, and sent questions via email to his former union, the Detectives’ Endowment Association, which said it “will bring it to the attention of the appropriate parties.” There was no further response. Mulkeen’s family, through its lawyer, declined to comment. The office of Mayor Eric Adams, who has championed the kind of anti-crime unit in which the officers served, also declined to comment, referring our questions to the NYPD.

The incident is the latest in a string of cases where the FID seemed to ignore evidence that was potentially damaging to officers who killed people in the line of duty. This year, ProPublica reported that in the FID’s investigation of the killing of Kawaski Trawick, the division never questioned officers about body-worn camera footage showing one of them trying to stop his partner from shooting Trawick, who was in the grips of a mental health crisis. Investigators also failed to challenge officers when their statements contradicted the available video.

Together, the shortcomings raise serious questions about how the NYPD is using body-worn camera video — especially when it implicates one of its own — both in its investigations of fatal shootings and in its messaging to the public, to which it releases edited and redacted cuts, if footage is released at all. In the Mulkeen case, time and again, investigators stopped short in their questioning of officers, even when the conduct at issue, which led to the death of a colleague, was on tape.

Former NYPD Detective John Baeza, who now serves as an expert witness on police misconduct and use of force in civil and criminal cases, said the FID failed in its mission to carefully examine every detail of what happened in this case.

“They don’t do a reconstruction,” said Baeza, who reviewed the FID report obtained by ProPublica. “You don’t see any police reports about anyone going out there, and having a couple guys on the ground, and then having somebody 60 feet away — photos of what it actually looks like when you’re 60 feet away from three guys on the ground.”

Such exercises could inform future training and potentially save lives, he said.

“Those are the things that first of all prevent police officers from being shot,” Baeza said, adding, “And the same thing goes for perpetrators.”

Indeed, Mulkeen’s father, who initially thanked the department for its response, is now suing the NYPD and the city. In his lawsuit, he accused the city of failing to properly train and supervise the officers in Mulkeen’s former unit. The shooters’ actions, Mulkeen’s father says in court filings, “were of such a wanton, willful, and reckless nature as to evince a callous disregard for human life.”

For the parents of the other man killed in the chaotic shootout, the FID’s clearing of the officers is part of what they call an NYPD “cover-up” of their son’s “murder.”

“This level of brutality and misconduct deserves far more than a twenty minute interview after waiting over half a year for the officers to get their stories straight so they can protect themselves,” Shawn and Gladys Williams said in a statement to ProPublica. The couple is also suing the NYPD and the city, alleging that officers illegally stopped their son that night in the Edenwald Houses.

The city denies the allegations in both cases, which are ongoing. The city’s Law Department, which is also representing the officers, declined to comment for this story.

When former NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton created the FID in 2015, he told the public this new unit of “top investigators” would take advantage of the latest technology to produce detailed probes of police shootings. “I will get a better investigation, a speedy investigation, a more comprehensive investigation,” he said.

Three years later, Maloney, the head of the FID, told NBC New York that advancements like body-worn cameras were helping the division “to be transparent.” By using video, he said, the public will “know that when an incident happens, they’re going to get the truth of why it happened.”

In the Mulkeen case, the division had access to more than 28 minutes of body-worn camera footage from the five officers working with Mulkeen, each of whom belonged to the NYPD’s controversial “anti-crime” unit. Tasked with getting illegal guns off the streets and dressed in plainclothes, its members were responsible for a disproportionate number of police shootings at the time. (An investigation by The Intercept found that between 2000 and 2018, anti-crime officers committed about a third of NYPD killings, despite accounting for just 6% of the force.)

Several members of Mulkeen’s team also had disciplinary and legal histories. By the time they entered the Edenwald Houses in September 2019, four of the six members — Detective Daniel Beddows, Sgt. Jason Valentino, and Officers Brian Mahon and Keith Figueroa — had racked up a total of 17 departmental violations, including conducting illegal stop and frisks, restricting a person’s breathing and abusing their authority by drawing a gun. Each of the same officers, plus Mulkeen, were also named in at least one lawsuit alleging civil rights violations. (The officers denied the charges, and the cases were settled for a combined $280,000.)

That night at the Edenwald Houses, Mulkeen rode with two colleagues, Mahon and Officer Robert Wichers. As their unmarked police car approached, Williams grew “wide eyed” and “nervous,” Mahon later told investigators.

Williams took off running, and Mulkeen and Wichers went after him on foot. Mahon, who thought Williams was a potential decoy, stayed with another man on the scene. He radioed to officers in the area that his partners were in pursuit of a suspect, who he said he had seen reaching into his pants.

Mulkeen and Wichers soon caught up to Williams in a dark path and wrestled him to the pavement. Stuck at the bottom of the pile, Mulkeen managed to pull his gun and shot Williams five times just as Wichers jumped off the two men. Wichers and another officer, Beddows, then each fired one round at Williams.

As the shots rang out, Valentino and Figueroa, who had responded to the radio call, got out of their cruiser. The two officers, along with Mahon, ran toward the gunfire. When the three officers got to the sidewalk, about 60 to 70 feet away, they fired into the scene. Mulkeen’s body instantly tensed as one of the bullets entered his skull. Beddows jumped back. “Stop shooting!” he yelled to his colleagues. Wichers echoed Beddows: “Stop shooting! Stop shooting!” Video shows Mahon then ran toward the men, taking five seconds to close the distance between the sidewalk and the scene. As he gets closer, he shouts expletives.

Multiple former NYPD officers who reviewed the footage told ProPublica they took issue with the officers’ decision to fire toward the struggle from that far away.

Daniel Modell, a former NYPD lieutenant who ran the department’s Tactical Training Unit, said if the officers believed they needed to shoot to protect Mulkeen, “I would think that calculus might be made by someone close to the struggle — not at a distance of 20 yards.”

Baeza, the former NYPD detective, agreed. “At 60 feet, these guys didn’t have time to set up and aim,” he said. “Plus, what are you aiming at? The first thing is: Know your target. Well, you’ve got three men involved in a scuffle, and how do you know what your target is? They’re moving around.”

Former NYPD Sgt. Joe Giacalone, who worked in the Edenwald Houses, said the emotional rush of such situations introduces more potential for error. “If you are in a situation where people are thinking your life’s in danger, your accuracy gets even worse,” he said. “Was it a good decision? Maybe not. But, that still doesn’t make it justified or unjustified.”

Seven months passed before the FID interviewed the five officers who fired their guns that night. But investigators raised few questions about the “friendly fire” part of the incident, according to the division’s full report, which included audio interviews with the officers — even when two of the shooters misrepresented how far away they were from the scuffle.

Mahon, for example, estimated that he observed Williams and the muzzle flash from 25 to 30 feet away, though he added that he was “not exactly sure” of his position. Body-camera evidence and crime scene measurements showed he was much farther than that. In fact, Mahon was more than twice that distance — about 70 feet away — when he fired, according to the Bronx District Attorney’s Office, which also looked into the incident. The office cited measurements taken by the NYPD Crime Scene Unit, in coordination with the FID. Figueroa, who was standing next to Mahon, also told investigators he was about 20 feet away, though he was “not sure.” Despite having the correct information, the FID detectives did not follow up.

That kind of deference is notable, given that making false, misleading or inaccurate statements is punishable under the NYPD’s disciplinary system, depending on the circumstances.

Investigators did ask the three officers who fired from the sidewalk whether they could tell who was shooting in the scuffle, Mulkeen or Williams. But when each said they could not make that distinction, detectives did not press any further.

Investigators also failed to question officers about other key details captured on their body-worn cameras. Most notably, the FID did not ask Wichers and Beddows — the two officers closest to Mulkeen and the struggle — about the “stop shooting” commands they shouted just after their colleagues fired from the sidewalk. For their part, neither officer mentioned the exchange, which would have underscored just how much the shooters had endangered everyone on the scene, including police.

Beddows told investigators that after he fired at Williams he “gave all his attention to Police Officer Mulkeen.” Maloney asked Beddows if he made any statements after he heard the gunshots from the officers on the sidewalk. He said no. Investigators did not press him any further.

Wichers also left out the exchange in his telling of the shooting. “After all the gunshots have stopped,” he told investigators, “I immediately go and try to render aid to Mulkeen.” Investigators did not challenge him. Instead, they asked Wichers if Mulkeen or Wiliams were still in possession of their firearms, who recovered the guns from the scene and if Wichers had any prior dealings with Williams.

Omissions of material facts are also punishable under the NYPD’s disciplinary system, but they must be found to be intentional.

A review of the audio interviews shows that the FID spent between seven and nine minutes questioning each of the officers about why they decided to fire their guns. In each interview, investigators spent almost as much time asking about logistical details, such as whether they were carrying a taser, if they were wearing a windbreaker or not and where their badge was positioned on their clothes.

By contrast, the FID spent considerably more time investigating Williams, the other victim in the shooting. Records show the division searched the Bronx apartment of Williams’ godmother, whom he was visiting the night he was killed. Investigators also spoke to his parole officer, the manager of a restaurant he worked at in Binghamton, New York, and his girlfriend, who also lived upstate. Additionally, the investigators probed the alleged gang ties of Williams and the other man standing with him on the sidewalk when they were stopped by the NYPD. The FID’s report included both men’s complete criminal records and a review of Williams’ and his girlfriend’s social media profiles.

Two years after the shooting, the FID presented its report to the NYPD’s Use of Force review board, which makes recommendations on discipline to the police commissioner. The FID said it found no violations of department policy by the officers, and the board agreed. According to the FID file, in January 2022, the commissioner signed off on this recommendation and the officers were cleared of all wrongdoing. Like prior FID reports, it was not released publicly.

The FID, however, was not the only law enforcement entity to review the shooting. The Bronx District Attorney’s Office did its own investigation, drawing heavily from the body-worn camera footage. In all, its report makes 17 references to the videos, compared with just nine mentions in the FID probe. And although the DA’s office said it did not have enough evidence to support criminal charges against the officers who shot Mulkeen, it did find that they had misstated key details in their recollections of the shooting and made some critical mistakes that night.

Notably, the DA’s office said that Mahon “mistook” Mulkeen for the suspect, Williams, when he claimed he saw a person on the ground holding a gun. The DA said “it is doubtful that Officer Mahon actually observed the weapon at that point” because it was underneath Williams, who was lying face down after being shot by Mulkeen.

The DA also challenged the account of Figueroa, who said he believed Williams was attempting to stand up and shoot at Beddows.

“Officer Figueroa was mistaken,” the DA wrote. “At the time of Officer Figueroa’s discharge, Mr. Williams had already been separated from Officer Mulkeen and was on the ground facing away from Officer Figueroa.”

Likewise, the DA concluded Valentino’s recollection that he could “clearly” see Williams at the time he fired was “controverted by the body worn camera evidence.”

“In fact, by the time that Sergeant Valentino began firing, Mr. Williams had already rolled off of Officer Mulkeen, was motionless on the ground, and Officer Mulkeen was no longer in danger,” the report said.

While no charges were filed by the DA and no discipline administered by the NYPD, the matter is not completely closed. Today, the city’s NYPD watchdog, the Civilian Complaint Review Board, is investigating a misconduct claim over the officers’ actions that night inside the Edenwald Houses. The CCRB confirmed the probe is ongoing but declined to make further comment for this story.

Meanwhile, Mulkeen’s father’s lawsuit against the NYPD and the city is on hold, pending the outcome of the CCRB investigation. So is the separate lawsuit by Williams’ family.

In the years since the Mulkeen shooting, the city disbanded the anti-crime unit, which department officials at the time said was a “seismic shift” away from the “brute force” tactics of the past. The officers involved in the case have gone in various directions. In October 2020, Beddows retired after he reached the 20-year mark with the NYPD, according to New York City employment records. Valentino and Wichers were each promoted and reassigned to nonpatrol units.

Mahon and Figueroa are still in the field, reassigned to another specialized NYPD unit. Its task: recovering illegal guns.

Last year, Adams announced that he would reinstate the anti-crime unit his predecessor had disbanded. “In doing this, we will avoid mistakes of the past,” he said. To assure New Yorkers, he noted officers would be identifiable as NYPD, receive enhanced training and be equipped with body cameras.

Video editing by Chris Morran and Kassie Navarro.

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