NYC Cop Flees as Bullets Fly

The recent story of a New York City police officer who fled a crime scene — even as suspects were shooting at his partner — has some calling the officer the "coward cop." But in the face danger, others coming to his defense say there's no telling what an individual will do.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

In New York, the tabloids are having a field day with a man they've dubbed the coward cop. A source inside the New York City Police Department is telling the media that surveillance footage shows that the officer ran away from a suspect who shot his partner. From New York, NPR's Mike Pesca has more on the story.

MIKE PESCA reporting:

Last week New York City Police Officers Patrick Caprice and Gilberto Marrero were fired upon by a man who they had just witnessed purchase marijuana. Three bullets struck Caprice, who was saved by his bulletproof vest. He required hospitalization for a week. The shooter made his way to his cousin's apartment where he committed suicide. It is the actions of the third person in this story that turns it from tragedy to mystery. An investigator who had seen the tapes taken from surveillance cameras mounted on many lampposts spread word to the media that Officer Marrero fled from the shots, took cover and called in the shooting without firing his weapon.

The next day, The New York Daily News' front-page story was The Cop Who Ran. The New York Post followed with the headline, "Coward Cop Sent to Shrink, Officer Who Ran Away A Basket Case.

Ms. SHERRY CASTELLANO (Director, Cop 2 Cop): There's no such thing as a cowardly police officer.

PESCA: Sherry Castellano is the director of Cop 2 Cop, a counseling service administered by the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and the state's Department of Personnel. She's married to a police officer and has counseled thousands more.

Ms. CASTELLANO: What I have heard from officers, both in counseling, on the hot line, in suicidal types of interventions is that cumulative stress has caused them to melt down. And those kinds of emotional fallouts, you know, can be perceived or distorted any way by the media.

PESCA: Castellano was incredulous, for instance, over a New York Post story, which inferred from Marrero's visit to a counselor that he was, quote, "wracked with guilt."

Ms. CASTELLANO: The spin that `Why should he need counseling?'--I mean, if you saw your friend and co-worker shot, would you need counseling? You know, I mean, wouldn't anybody?

PESCA: Eugene O'Donnell, a professor of police studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York and a former officer for the New York Police Department, says it's quite possible that Marrero was just following standard procedure.

Mr. EUGENE O'DONNELL (Professor, John Jay College of Criminal Justice): A core piece of police firearms training is step one. Step one, which the public might think is to, you know, get into a shooting stance and shoot somebody, that is not step one. Step one is to take cover.

PESCA: O'Donnell draws no conclusions because he has not seen the tape. No one has seen the tape except the unnamed sources in the Police Department. That's one reason not to rush to judge Officer Marrero's actions. Another is that there's been a recent emphasis--an extremely successful emphasis, O'Donnell says--in getting police to restrain themselves from firing their weapons.

Mr. O'DONNELL: The idea that you can absolutely say that an officer's cowardly because he hasn't taken a shot at somebody or hasn't himself been shot--that's a very dubious proposition.

PESCA: While Officer Caprice hasn't commented on any aspect of the shooting, his father has criticized Marreri for abandoning his son and the tabloids continue to take out Marrero's home. The findings of the NYPD's Firearms Discharge Review Board are expected soon. Mike Pesca, NPR News, New York.

BRAND: NPR's DAY TO DAY continues. I'm Madeleine Brand.

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