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Police criticized over New Year’s Eve shootings

For the second year in a row, city officials in Philadelphia are being asked how police officers responding to celebratory New Year's Eve gunfire ended up shooting innocent bystanders.
Philly Police Shootings
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson at a news conference in Philadelphia on Thursday.Matt Rourke / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

For the second year in a row, city officials are being asked how police officers responding to celebratory New Year's Eve gunfire ended up shooting innocent bystanders.

This year, police chasing an armed reveler shot into a house filled with partygoers, leaving one man in a coma, a second wounded and a 9-year-old boy with a graze wound to the chest.

A year ago, police fatally shot a man in the back of the head as he tried to flee when neighbors started shooting guns into the air.

The latest shootings came as Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson ends a six-year tenure marked by public concern about gun violence and the police response to it.

Johnson has repeatedly been asked to answer questions about the department's use of deadly force, including two months ago when officers killed a distraught teenager wielding a clothes iron. City police fatally shot 16 people in 2007 and 20 the previous year.

"It seems that there's too much of a policy to shoot first and worry about the outcome later," said Bruce Ginsburg, an attorney representing two of the shooting victims. "It puts everybody in the city in danger."

Commissioner on the defense
Johnson, who was retiring Friday after 43 years with the department, defended his officers while promising an investigation of the New Year's Eve shootings.

"It's hard for you to say when an officer has a gun pointed at him, is he reacting too fast? We had one (officer) killed, we had six others who were shot" this year, he said Thursday at his final news conference.

Johnson's replacement, Charles Ramsey, has pledged to address the number of police shootings. Ramsey has noted that in his tenure as police chief of Washington, the number of such shootings fell by 77 percent.

Philadelphia police acknowledged this week that they arrested an innocent partygoer early Tuesday, based on his resemblance to the suspect who they say fired shots in the air, pointed his weapon at police and ran toward the string of row homes. Authorities later charged a 21-year-old man, who apparently was shot in the arm but did not seek treatment.

The party's host, Clinton Rogers, 30, told reporters that bullets started flying through the front door at him, friends and relatives just after midnight. Parents jumped in front of their children and two men who were shot ran upstairs, trailing blood.

The spray of bullets left Abebe Isaac, 33, in a medically induced coma after he was shot in the face. Michael Johnson, 32, remains stable after being shot in the side. Nyger Page, 9, was treated and released after suffering the graze wound.

'Unnecessary death'
Ginsburg represents Page's family and also that of Bryan Jones, who was shot to death by police as 2007 arrived.

Jones, 20, had set out on foot in the waning moments of 2006 to retrieve a young nephew from a party and was fleeing gunfire when he was shot.

Police have said officers responding to a report of gunfire were fired at by people on a porch and that an officer fired at Jones when he saw him reaching for his waistband. Jones, however, had no weapon and no criminal history, Ginsburg said.

"Nothing was learned about the unnecessary death of a young man last year," he said.

Ginsburg plans to file a wrongful death suit on behalf of Jones' family.