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‘I Don’t Recall It Coming Up Organically’: NYPD Explains Why They Omitted Fact That Cop Accidentally Fired His Glock During Columbia Raid

"I think we could have talked about it. But I don't, I don't recall it coming up organically in that press conference."

Assistant Chief Carlos Valdez and Deputy Commissioner for Public Information Tarik Sheppard at the podium.

Assistant Chief Carlos Valdez (left) and Deputy Commissioner for Public Information Tarik Sheppard at Friday’s press conference (Hell Gate)

Mayor Eric Adams, NYPD Commissioner Edward Caban, and scads of police brass were on hand for Wednesday morning's triumphant press conference to announce that the NYPD had arrested hundreds of students, as well as an unknown number of "outside agitators" at Columbia University and City College of New York the previous night. The police had done "an amazing job," Deputy Commissioner for Public Information Tarik Sheppard told the reporters. "Make no mistake about it, this is a very difficult operation. But we made it look like it wasn't problematic," Sheppard said, adding that the cops were "very professional."

One important detail was left out of the media briefing on this highly "professional" operation: An NYPD officer had accidentally shot his gun while police were raiding Columbia's Hamilton Hall, where a group of several dozen students and protesters had barricaded themselves. It was left to the CITY to report this fact on Thursday night.

And so on Friday morning, the NYPD held yet another press conference on the retaking of Hamilton Hall, except this time, only two members of the department bothered to show up to the podium: Assistant Chief Carlos Valdez, who commands the elite NYPD Emergency Services Unit that stormed Hamilton Hall, and Sheppard, the spokesperson.

The almost celebratory mood of the first press conference had dissipated. Valdez seemed a bit nervous, as he described how an unnamed NYPD ESU sergeant was trying to enter a dark room in Hamilton Hall through a glass window, transferred his Glock handgun (equipped with a flashlight, because that is how ESU officers see in the dark, by pointing their flashlight-mounted guns at the thing they need to see) from his dominant right hand to his left hand, and "unintentionally pulled the trigger of his weapon and discharged the firearm."

Sheppard, meanwhile, seemed bored, and a bit peeved. The bullet struck a wall in an empty room, no students were around, no one was injured, he said. So what was the big deal? As for why the incident didn't come up during Wednesday's press conference, well, Sheppard explained that was the media's fault for not asking about it.

"I think we could have talked about it. But I don't, I don't recall it coming up organically in that press conference," Sheppard said. "I do see how some are saying, 'Hey, this is an operation that people were watching around the country.'" But ultimately, Sheppard said, he consulted with Commissioner Caban, and the two concurred that a bullet being accidentally fired from a cop's gun after they barreled into a building full of students wasn't that important, in the grand scheme of things.

"Even the other ESU members didn't hear it, there was nobody in danger, there was nobody struck. For us, this is an accidental discharge," Sheppard said. "We average about eight of these a year," Sheppard said. 

Summing up his job responsibilities, Sheppard added, "My goal here was not to just try and make a story. My goal is to see, is there a story here in terms of, hey is there something abnormal about this? And it wasn't. But we would have talked about it, we gave it to the DA. There was no rush for us to talk about this."

Describing NYPD "accidental discharges" as a kind of regrettable but harmless and routine occurrence isn't exactly true. In 2014, NYPD Officer Peter Liang fatally shot Akai Gurley in the dark stairwell of a NYCHA building, a shooting that Liang insisted was an accidental discharge. (Liang was later convicted of manslaughter.) And the part about other ESU members not hearing the gun go off wasn't quite true either. Video circulated Tuesday night of an NYPD officer texting someone named "Sal," and seemingly referencing the shooting. "Thought we fucking shot someone," the officer types.

Even though the accidental discharge happened during an extremely high-profile event, the NYPD wouldn't be releasing any body camera footage of the incident, because, Sheppard noted, that's not what the NYPD does.

"We don't have any intention on releasing the body cam of the accidental discharge. We never do that. And I don't think we're going to do that here just because it's a newsworthy incident. We're not gonna change that protocol," he explained.

As for the officer himself, Valdez said he would be retrained, but stressed that it was just an accident.

"Moving forward, we will obviously counsel the officer and send them to retraining and reevaluate him, and we will take it from there," Valdez said. "He is a very experienced officer in the unit. He's been a sergeant in the unit now for almost eight years, with an impeccable record."

Here, a PIX11 reporter jumped in, because after all, PIX11 had just published an extensive look "inside" the unit.

"Just in the training that we've covered for you all, usually, the number one thing is to never let your finger get to the trigger," the reporter said.

"Yes," Valdez replied. 

"Do we know how that could have happened?"

"Under the conditions, high-level, stress situation. When he transitioned to his left hand, he accidentally pulled the trigger. That's the best I can tell you," Valdez said. "I can't get into the mind of the sergeant."

And what about Mayor Adams? Was he informed of the shooting? Did he help make the decision to omit it from Wednesday's presser?

Sheppard confirmed that the mayor was informed, but that it didn't matter: "This is a police department incident, why are you bringing in the mayor?"

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