The grand jury investigation into the New York City police
shooting of Gidone Busch in the Boro Park section of Brooklyn
has found that some of the statements made by police and city
officials are not supported by witness accounts of what
happened, and are in some cases contradicted, according to a
report in the New York Times last Monday.
According to New York City Police Commissioner Howard Safir,
speaking the day after, the tragic killing of the mentally
disturbed man in Boro Park on August 30 was a clear case of
self defense. The morning after the incident, Safir, Mayor
Rudolph W. Giuliani and a group of Jewish organizational
leaders told a news conference that attempts by police
officers to stop the man had failed.
He also repeatedly stressed that Busch was attacking two
fallen officers at the time he was shot. "We have seven
independent witnesses who confirm everything I am saying,
nonpolice witnesses," Commissioner Safir said.
Though Safir's version of events was initially accepted by
most residents in Borough Park, which is a bedrock of support
for Mayor Giuliani, there was unease at the killing, right
from the start. After the shooting in the normally peaceful
neighborhood, hundreds poured into the streets to demonstrate
their concern about the violence.
However, investigators are uncovering a different story in
many large and small details.
Forensic evidence -- as well as the statements of witnesses
including the two police officers on the scene who did not
fire -- shows that Busch was not striking anyone with his
hammer or even in physical contact with the police when he
Investigators have also been unable to find even a single
witness who described the shooting the way Safir did.
Many of the facts surrounding the shooting of Busch, 31, are
not in dispute. Busch, a former medical student, had been
broken a man's nose with his hammer just the day before. On
the night of the shooting, the police first responded to a
call of a disturbance at Busch's apartment, but no arrest was
One hour later, they returned. Once there, they encountered
an angry and violent man, who was flailing a hammer. Within
minutes, Busch was dead, and a stream of angry local
residents took to the street in protest.
Jack Epstein, who was standing by the guardrail to the narrow
flight of seven steps leading from the sidewalk to Busch's
basement apartment, saw the first two officers approach and
peer down into the doorway.
Busch was inside, wearing a towel like a prayer shawl and
tefillin on his left arm and head, holding the hammer, which
turned out to be inscribed with the Hebrew letters for G-d,
flat in both hands, Epstein remembered, "like the handle of a
shopping cart." The time was after 6 p.m., very late in the
When Busch refused the officer's orders to put the hammer
down and come out, Mr. Epstein said to the New York
Times, he heard them call on their radios for backup and
the Emergency Services Unit.
Two more officers arrived quickly. At this point, a man with
whom the police said Busch had been smoking marijuana for
several hours, appeared on the steps. The officers reached
down, pulled him up to the sidewalk level and wrestled him
down, Mr. Epstein said.
Busch then stepped out into small landing at the bottom of
the stairs, reached through the bars of the railing and
rapped his hammer on the brickwork. Police then tried
spraying pepper gas at Busch.
Abe Jacobowitz, who was standing near the entrance of the
house next door, also remembered Busch at the bottom of the
stairs and the spray of pepper gas.
"He was in a rage, screaming," said Mr. Jacobowitz, who has
spoken to the authorities. "He was, like, `Get out of my
way,' upset, heavily agitated and disturbed.
"When he went up the steps, he was swinging the hammer. He
hit a policeman on the foot, once, maybe twice, glancing
blows. They moved back and Busch ran out. He had ample room
to get past them."
"He was screaming, brandishing the hammer," Rafael
Eisenberg, who has testified at the grand jury proceedings,
said. "Screaming incoherently. Oh, definitely, he was going
at them. The cop sprang backward up to the street, and the
other cops backed up behind him. He keeps coming up the steps
and the cops give him room; he's more or less unstopped.
"He gets out about 10 feet and turns, with a brick wall at
his back. He assumes this bizarre position, holding the
hammer with both hands high above his head. He's screaming,
berserk, like a lunatic. He was bonkers at this point; he was
Now Busch was free of the police effort to restrain him,
loose on the sidewalk. At this point, these witnesses agree,
all of the police officers were on their feet, strung out in
a kind of semicircle facing him, crouched in firing
positions, pistols held out in a two-handed grip. Twelve
shots were then fired.
The pattern of the spent shell casings spread across the
sidewalk and the position of Busch's body, clearly shows that
Busch had broken free of the police when he was shot. This is
in clear contradiction to Commissioner Safir's account.
In his news conference, Mayor Giuliani described Busch as
"approximately 6-foot-4, 190 pounds." The Medical Examiner's
office concluded that Busch stood 6-foot-3 and weighed only
"You cannot have the authorities lying," Mr. Eisenberg said.
"They're trying to make it fit within their procedures. We're
a community that supports the police, but I was shocked."
Another witness, Rivky Rokeach, said: "In my opinion, he did
not threaten five or six policemen," she said. "He wasn't
lunging them. They were all nervous and hyped up.
"He'd been acting a little nutty," she said. "So what -- you
kill a man because he's acting a little nutty?"
Police have to show that there was a reasonable possibility
that either police or others were physically threatened and
that they therefore had to use their guns to stop Busch. On
the one hand a man with a hammer can kill people, and Busch's
dress and behavior certainly made him a fearsome, threatening
figure. On the other hand, many observers said that Busch was
so thin and so incoherent that it does not seem reasonable
that so many police officers could not bring him under
control without killing him.
Many were also disturbed by the statements made by the
authorities that were so far from the truth. The statements
were made the morning after the shooting, which should have
been enough time to get the basic facts straight. The
numerous discrepancies raise questions about the reliability
of the authorities in many areas.
The area is known as a bastion of support for Mayor Giuliani,
and 88% of the voters supported him in the last election.