Late Friday night, a confrontation between an off-duty police officer and a minivan driver ended with the driver dead. This is what police and witnesses say happened: Fermin Arzu, 41, was driving a Nissan Quest minivan on the wrong side of Longwood Road in the Bronx. The minivan hit a parked Mitsubishi Montero SUV, which then hit another parked car. Off-duty police officer Raphael Lora, who works in the Manhattan transit force and lives on the street, came out of his house and chased the minivan.
Lora and Arzu got into an argument. While the police say Lora had his badge around his neck, some witnesses said Lora never identified himself. From the Post:
Police sources said that Lora asked for Arzu's license and registration, but the driver tried to push the door shut and reached into his glove compartment.
According to the police, the Nissan suddenly lurched forward and that's when Lora started shooting.
But two witnesses told The Post the van was moving slowly when Lora started firing.
"The guy just opened fire, and then he just started running after the car," said a witness who asked not to be identified.
According to the Times, Lora fired five times, with four bullets hitting the car and one bullet hitting Arzu in the chest. Then the minivan continued down the street for a few blocks, until it crashed into a church and the car burst into flames. Arzu was dead when emergency responders arrived to put the fire out; the Daily News says his body was "wedged under the dashboard" and was not burned; initially, investigators had said that Arzu died from the fire.
The NYPD said, "It's too early to say whether the shooting falls within department guidelines." There are some conflicting reports of what's allowed and what's not by the NYPD. Police officers are generally trained not to fire at moving vehicles unless there's the threat of a weapon. A Sergeants' Benevolent Association lawyer told the Times, "If the officer reasonably believes the person has a weapon and is about to use it, and that he may use deadly physical force, he can fire his weapon. You are in department guidelines, regardless of whether that person is behind a wheel of the car.” No weapons were found in Arzu's minivan.
Reports say that Lora, who is married with two daughters, an ex-Marine who served in Iraq; this was the first time he ever fired while a cop. He has been reassigned to a desk job. Arzu, who was a building porter and musician, leaves behind two daughters and a companion. Arzu's family and relatives wonder why Lora didn't simply shoot the tires while a Lora's neighbor told Newsday, "If he was involved, he's doing the right thing."
And yesterday would have been Sean Bell's 24th birthday; his family and supporters held a fundraiser to help the fiancee and two daughters of Bell, who was shot by police last November. WABC 7 pointed out that a similarity between this incident and the Bell shooting: Whether Arzu realized he was being chased by a police officer.