Two shootings by different off-duty New York City correction officers this summer happened just weeks apart. One officer who allegedly shot and killed a teenager holding a toy gun now faces criminal charges, while the other – who fired his weapon at a Fourth of July celebration – has been hailed by public officials as a hero.

Many details remain unknown. The correction officers were not wearing body cameras and police have released limited information. But both incidents raise questions about how correction officers, who are allowed to carry guns off duty, are trained on when to use deadly force outside of jail settings, and how those calculations are changing as a result of a recent Supreme Court decision over the city’s gun laws that increases the likelihood of encountering armed civilians.

Not all correction officers carry guns on the job, but whether they do or not, all are permitted to carry guns on the street – a rare entitlement in New York. Unlike the NYPD, the Department of Correction does not post a policy guide on its website, making it difficult to know what its officers are taught. And while police training has come under increased scrutiny in recent years, jail officer training has received much less attention. In response to a list of questions about its protocols, the DOC told Gothamist that its training goes “above and beyond state law” requirements and includes yearly refresher courses.

Two shootings, weeks apart

On Sunday, July 3rd, Officer David Donegan fired his gun after someone reportedly pointed a weapon at a crowd celebrating the Fourth of July weekend.

Donegan was praised by DOC Commissioner Louis Molina.

“We’re grateful that he took his action and [referred] to his training and was able to engage with these two individuals that were providing gun violence in our city,” Molina said at a press conference, while Donegan was in the hospital recovering from gunshot wounds sustained during the incident.

NYPD Chief of Patrol Jeffrey Maddrey also defended the officer’s actions.

“The primary goal of law enforcement is to protect lives,” he told reporters when asked whether correction officials are trained to shoot into a crowd. “The off-duty correction officer saw a threat and took action to stop that threat.”

Nineteen days after Donegan fired his weapon, a firearms instructor at the academy named Dion Middleton allegedly shot and killed 18-year-old Raymond Chaluisant, who was holding a toy gun, prompting a very different response from officials.

Middleton was charged with murder and manslaughter and held on a $1 million bail.

“These very serious charges are in no way a reflection of the officers who work to keep our city safe every day,” Molina said in a statement. “This officer will be immediately suspended without pay, and if the charges are true he will face the full consequences of the law and be terminated."

‘A great deal of responsibility’

Five years ago, the DOC released a three-and-a-half-minute video on YouTube that provides one of the few glimpses into its Firearms and Tactics Unit.

Interspersed with footage of recruits firing at targets, an instructor from the training academy named Tyson Jones gives a brief rundown of the department’s nine-day course, which he says includes gun safety, scenario-based training and speed shooting by the fifth day.

Jones says his goals are to “dispel a lot of misbeliefs that people have about firearms,” to help recruits feel more comfortable firing guns, and to understand the power that comes with carrying one.

“You get a shield, you get an ID, you get a gun. That comes with a great deal of responsibility,” he tells the camera.

“It's not just something like it's a toy or it's something that's cool to have,” he says. “They really understand the responsibility that they have.”

Every city correction officer goes through firearms training, according to the DOC. Not all are issued firearms, like police are. And they are forbidden from carrying guns inside the jails. Firearms are typically only issued for officers who transport incarcerated people. But state law does allow jail officers to carry their guns off duty, even in the newly created “sensitive” areas, such as on subways and in Times Square, where state legislators recently created new laws prohibiting firearms in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in June.

Roger Clark, who spent nearly three decades with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, said officers should be trained to shoot only as a last resort, and to think through their fears before acting on them.

“All the training has to first be grounded in an ethic,” Clark told Gothamist. He said officers should be taught that life is sacred and that deadly force should be saved for “the direst of circumstances, only absent a reasonable, obvious alternative.”

Clark has law enforcement experience both on street patrol and inside jails. Now, he testifies as an expert witness in use of force cases – including a grand jury case on the killing of Tamir Rice, a child who was shot by a Cleveland police officer, also because of a toy gun.

Confronting the prevalence of firearms — and toy guns

Clark said officers should consider the full context of the situation to determine if someone’s gun is real: Is anyone screaming for help? Is the person acting aggressively or making threats? It’s a lot to think about in a hectic situation. But he said that’s what officers need to do.

“We're trained that kids carry toy guns and that there's a lot of toys out there and there's a lot of replicas out there,” Clark said. “You gotta be sure.”

In last week’s case, Chaluisant, the teenager who was shot to death, was allegedly playing with an Orbeez gun. These toys are modeled after military-style rifles, but they’re often brightly colored and shoot gel beads – not bullets. They’ve gone viral on TikTok, and videos with hundreds of thousands of views show kids pelting unsuspecting passersby.

The Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association said in a statement that Middleton fired his gun after he felt something hit his back. The union also said that “[t]oy guns no longer resemble toys.”

The company that makes the toy guns did not respond to a request for comment.

Since the shooting, the NYPD has taken to Twitter to let the public know that the bead blasters are illegal in the city.

Even local violence interrupters are grappling with how to respond when kids are playing with them, including David Caba of Bronx Rises Against Gun Violence, or BRAG.

“Interestingly enough, just the other day, and I'm literally talking about yesterday, we did an interruption because we saw a group of kids in our catchment area in BRAG Northwest doing the same type of thing,” Caba said in an interview shortly after Chaluisant was shot. His group works to prevent shootings in the same neighborhood where the teenager was killed.

He said he doesn’t want anyone to be too quick to pull the trigger, or to make assumptions that members of his community pose a risk to law enforcement.

“I'm perplexed by what occurred,” Caba said. “In the past, it hasn't been a water gun that was mistaken. It was a cell phone that was mistaken in the past on many occasions or someone's wallet or – there's always something.”

A Supreme Court ruling that overturned New York’s strict concealed carry statute earlier this summer could further complicate the issue by increasing the number of guns on the city’s streets and the perception that more people may be armed. A recent study published in the Journal of Urban Health found states that ease their gun carrying laws have higher rates of shootings by law enforcement. Another study found police fatally shoot people at higher levels in states with a higher prevalence of firearms.

And while researchers didn’t determine the cause of those trends, some experts wonder whether more guns on the streets could put officers on edge – and therefore, make them more likely to pull the trigger. Other researchers have also questioned whether off-duty officers ought to be armed – or if carrying guns in their day-to-day lives could pose an unnecessary risk.

Meanwhile, the correction officers’ union is circulating a petition on its Facebook page urging lawmakers to add their retired employees to the list of New Yorkers permitted to carry guns in sensitive areas. The newly written statute only includes a carve-out for actively employed peace officers, which include jail staff. More than 6,600 people have already signed.

The officer who fired his gun over the Fourth of July weekend is still on duty, according to the DOC. The one who shot Chaluisant has been suspended while the state attorney general investigates. The AG’s office said Middleton is the first correction officer to be criminally charged for shooting someone since New York created an independent unit to review killings by law enforcement. The officer’s union says it will provide him the “best possible representation.”

Catalina Gonella contributed reporting for this story.