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Grand Jury Refuses to Indict Six Cops in Shooting of Woman

July 21, 1988

NEW YORK (AP) _ A grand jury declined to indict five police officers for shooting an unarmed, drug-addicted woman to death after a car chase, but a sixth was charged with initially trying to cover up his role in the shooting.

The panel cleared the five officers of any criminal wrongdoing in the April 27 shooting of Lidia Ferraro, 32, of Fairview, N.J., Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau announced Wednesday.

The panel ruled that Mrs. Ferraro’s death stemmed in part from her own actions and from an incorrect police radio transmission.

However, the jury indicted Sgt. John O’Connor, 30, on charges he attempted to cover up his role in the incident by replacing three spent cartridges after he fired at Mrs. Ferraro’s car in violation of police rules. Later he admitted he had shot at the car.

The shots were mistakenly reported over the police radio as shots fired by Mrs. Ferraro.

O’Connor, who faces up to four years in prison if convicted on the charge of tampering with physical evidence, pleaded innocent and was released without bail at his arraignment in state Supreme Court in Manhattan a few hours later.

All six officers face possible departmental charges for firing their weapons in violation of regulations. Those rules allow officers to shoot only when a felony has been committed and police are in a life-threatening situation. They do not allow an officer to fire to stop a car.

O’Connor has been suspended. Capt. Mark Frances of the Police Department’s Field Investigation Unit said the other officers are on modified assignment.

The 8 1/2 -minute drama began when Mrs. Ferraro, high on drugs, ran a red light, Morgenthau said. Officers in a radio car tried to stop her and the chase was on up and down streets of East Harlem.

At one point, O’Connor stepped in front of Mrs. Ferraro’s car and tried to stop it. As the car swerved around O’Connor, he fired three shots at the tires.

Morgenthau said Mrs. Ferraro appeared not to hear officers as they shouted over the police car’s public address system for her to stop.

Assistant District Attorney Kristine Hamann said toxicology reports showed she had ″therapeutic amounts″ of Valium and methadone in her system and ″enough heroin and cocaine to cause an overdose in some people.″

Mrs. Ferraro’s husband, Guy, said she was in a drug-rehabilitation program.

Because a radio transmission said ″10-13, shots fired,″ police officers who joined the chase believed Mrs. Ferraro had fired the shots. A ″10-13″ call means an officer needs help.

When Mrs. Ferraro’s car stopped, she leaned over toward the floor, Morgenthau said. The cops, mistakenly believing she was armed because of the radio warning and her movement inside the car, shot her dead.

Ms. Hamann said 16 shots were fired at Mrs. Ferraro during the chase. Eleven bullets were fired after she stopped and she was hit five times.

A lawyer for the Ferraro family, John Sullivan, called the shooting an outrage. The family has filed notice of a $25 million wrongful death suit against New York City.

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