Memo offers new account of ATF agent's NY shooting

AP News

2/8/2012 9:25:56 PM - AP News

A document accidentally posted on a prosecutor's website cites a pharmacist's version of the friendly fire shooting death of a federal agent during a New Year's Eve robbery and differs from an account offered by an attorney for the retired police lieutenant who fired the fatal shot.

The pharmacist claims a retired Nassau County police lieutenant, who ran to the scene when he heard reports of a robbery in progress, shot once without warning when he came upon a skirmish between a robbery suspect and a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent on the sidewalk outside the pharmacy. That shot killed ATF agent John Capano, who was a customer in the pharmacy and had chased the robbery suspect outside.

The lieutenant's attorney, Brian Davis, has said that his client, Christopher Geraghty, opened fire only after a shot whizzed past his head. Davis said Geraghty thought the shot came from the robbery suspect and has been distraught over the accidental shooting. Davis said Wednesday it is not unusual for witnesses to have different versions of what happened during a crime.

"In the heat of battle, people see different things in different ways," he told Newsday.

The document with the pharmacist's account was obtained by Newsday and WINS Radio before it was removed by the Nassau County district attorney's office. A redacted version without the names of those involved was posted Wednesday on the WINS website.

Capano, 51, was shot while struggling with the suspect during a robbery for prescription painkillers and cash at a small family pharmacy in Seaford, on Long Island, about 25 miles east of New York City. He had gone to the pharmacy to fill a prescription for his cancer-stricken father.

Capano, an ATF senior special agent who had traveled to global hot spots such as Afghanistan and Iraq, was deemed to be the first ATF agent to be fatally shot in the line of duty since the infamous raid on a religious cult compound in Waco, Texas, in 1993. ATF officials said that when he intervened, he did so in his capacity as a law enforcement official.

Geraghty sent a personal note of condolences to Capano's relatives, his lawyer has said.

The robbery suspect, who had a long history of pharmacy robberies, also was shot and killed, by an off-duty New York City police officer who ran to the scene.

Neither the Nassau County police nor the district attorney's office has commented on any specifics of what happened during the shooting, citing an ongoing investigation. The ATF issued a statement after Capano's funeral citing the holdup man as the ultimate culprit.

John Byrne, a spokesman for District Attorney Kathleen Rice, said in a statement that the three-page memorandum from a Jan. 10 interview by prosecutors and detectives with the pharmacist was accidentally posted on the DA's website.

"A confidential internal memorandum from an ongoing investigation was mislabeled and placed on the District Attorney's web site in error," he said. "This interview represents just one of many perspectives of the Seaford tragedy and no conclusions should be drawn from it."

Byrne didn't say when the memorandum was posted or how long it was online.

The memo also reveals that the pharmacist, who worked at Charlie's Family Pharmacy in Seaford, followed the robbery suspect outside after the holdup and was carrying a 9mm pistol in an ankle holster. The pharmacist said he pulled the weapon as he approached the sidewalk where the two men were struggling intensely. He said the lieutenant jumped on top of the two men and during the struggle fired a shot from his weapon into Capano's back.

The pharmacist said he immediately told the lieutenant he had shot the wrong man. Later in the memo, the pharmacist said that was the first shot he had heard and he immediately turned away and said he heard additional shots but did not see who was shooting.

It was the second deadly holdup in a pharmacy on Long Island last year. In June, a gunman killed two store employees and two customers before fleeing with a backpack filled with painkillers.

The robberies have prompted calls for tighter pharmacy security, and a grand jury in neighboring Suffolk County is investigating whether doctors are improperly prescribing pain medication to undeserving patients.