No criminal charges will be filed in a friendly fire shooting that killed a police officer on Long Island, a county prosecutor said Tuesday. Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice also said she will not file charges against police officers involved in the fatal shooting of a civilian that preceded the officer's death.
Rice issued an 18-page report on her office's investigation of the March 2011 shooting. Officer Geoffrey Breitkopf, who was wearing civilian clothes and had a rifle slung under his arm when he approached the scene of the earlier shooting, was killed by a Metropolitan Transportation Authority police officer who apparently mistook him for a possible suspect.
"Although the results were unquestionably tragic, criminal charges under these circumstances would be legally unsustainable," Rice said.
Breitkopf was a member of the elite Bureau of Special Operations and arrived minutes after other Nassau police officers shot an emotionally disturbed, knife-wielding man inside his home in Massapequa Park, about 40 miles east of New York City.
A neighbor reported that she was backing out of her driveway when the suspect, wearing dark clothing and a hockey mask, jumped on the hood of her car. When officers arrived, they found 21-year-old Anthony DiGeronimo with knives strapped to his body and in his hands.
The officers followed as DiGeronimo ran into his own house nearby. Officers say the suspect briefly barricaded himself in a bedroom before he emerged and charged at officers with a knife. The officers drew their weapons and killed him.
Rice found that officers Richard McDonald and Paul Lewis "reasonably believed that DiGeronimo was about to use deadly physical force on them."
Several minutes later, backup arrived, including Bureau of Special Operations officers in plainclothes, and MTA officers who normally patrol the nearby Long Island Rail Road station in Massapequa Park.
An MTA officer fired one shot at Breitkopf, who was just arriving at the scene and had an M-4 assault rifle slung under his arm.
Rice's report said MTA Officer Glen Gentile did not know that Breitkopf was a police officer. "When Officer Gentile saw Breitkopf's rifle pointed in the direction of civilians and other officers during this confrontation, Gentile perceived a threat and fired one shot, striking Breitkopf in the torso."
Less than 10 minutes elapsed between the first police contact with DiGeronimo and Breitkopf's shooting, Rice said.
The district attorney's investigation confirmed that a retired New York City police officer who happened upon the scene had yelled "gun" when he saw Breitkopf approaching the home where DiGeronimo had been shot.
Nassau County PBA President James Carver thanked Rice for investigating. "Nothing in that report will ever bring back Geoff to his family. I guess we have to accept the findings and move forward."
A message left at the offices of the MTA police union seeking comment was not immediately returned..
It was the first of two friendly fire shooting deaths in the county last year. On New Year's Eve, a federal agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was killed when he tried to intervene in a pharmacy robbery in Seaford.
Neither police nor prosecutors have publicly commented on that shooting since it happened, citing an ongoing investigation.