Investigation Opened After Police Fatally Shoots Unarmed Black Man Following A Wild Car Chase

A high-speed car chase earlier today came to a deadly end when police officers shot and killed the driver of the vehicle. The eight-mile, wild pursuit began in the Bronx and ended in the Saw Mill Parkway in Westchester on Tuesday. The dead suspect was also travelling with a friend. He has been hospitalized with injuries sustained when the car crashed.

The unarmed and fatally wounded man has been identified by New York Police Department officials as 36-year-old Miguel Espinal, who had been staying in Jamaica, Queens, with family, but lives in Florida. Relatives also advised that he had been driving his father’s car at the time of the car chase. The chief spokesman for the New York Police Department, Stephen Davis, confirmed yesterday that the suspect who was fatally shot by the police officer was unarmed.

An investigation into the circumstances that led to the fatal shooting of the suspect is under way, according to the Washington Post.

What is known is that shortly before noon on Tuesday, two NYPD officers on duty began to follow a gray Nissan that they had spotted driving erratically. The chase began when the driver sped off instead of pulling over when the police signalled the car to do so. The officers reportedly lost sight of the car on the parkway, just over the border in Westchester County, and when next they laid eyes on the Nissan, it was headed straight for them — driving against traffic.

The suspect’s car shot past the officers before crashing into a median, plus three other vehicles on the parkway. The police were quick to reach the site of the car crash, but, according to officials, Espinal was already running. As officers approached the crashed car, an unarmed Miguel Espinal climbed through the car window, ran across three lanes of traffic, and jumped a guardrail before fleeing into the woods of Tibbetts Brook Park. A passenger, identified as Akeem Smith, 25, was found inside the vehicle, injured and taken into custody. Apparently, Akeem Smith was a drug mule on federal probation in a drug case.

The two police officers involved in the pursuit and death of the suspect are Garthlette James and Romeo Francis. The department states that neither of them have been involved in a prior on-duty shooting. Public records do show that in March, a federal civil rights suit was filed against several officers, including Officer Francis, citing use of excessive force during an arrest, but the charges were later dismissed.

The police pursued Espinal into the woods and there, a confrontation took place that led to one of the police killing the unarmed black man. Allegedly, they chased him for about 100 yards before he attacked them as they tried to arrest him. It is still unclear which of the two officers who pursued the suspect actually fired the shot that killed him and, as of Tuesday night, neither of them had been interviewed as yet. However, the shot fired struck Espinal in the torso. He died at the scene.

The New York Post calls Espinal a “career criminal” who had a long rap sheet. The 36-year-old had grown up in Queens and had already served two terms in New York State prison, one term for robbery and another one for burglary. He also had two prior arrests for trafficking cocaine and resisting an officer with violence. Reports from the New York Times state that law enforcement officials state that Miguel Espinal also had open warrants in Florida for assault and burglary. One person also claimed to have heard there was a gun present. However, none of these things were known to the officers who pursued, shot, and killed Espinal.

A recent executive order mandating that the Attorney General probe all police shootings involving unarmed suspects will see state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and the Westchester district attorney’s office investigating the fatal shooting of Miguel Espinal.

[Photo by Keena Betancur/ Getty Images & New York Department of Corrections]