Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Charedi World

26 Tishrei 5760 - October 6, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Sponsored by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Produced and housed by

Investigators Find Police Misstatements in Boro Park Killing

by Yated Ne'eman Staff

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 was shot.

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 made.

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 day.

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 a madman."

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 159 pounds.

"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.

All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.