An off-duty New York City correction officer who allegedly shot a teen in the face was formally charged Friday with murder and manslaughter, authorities said.
Dion Middleton, 45, was charged in the Bronx County Criminal Court with second-degree murder, as well as first- and second-degree manslaughter, according to a spokesperson for the New York State Attorney General’s office.
Middleton did not enter a plea and was expected to be released later Friday after posting a $1 million bond.
Investigators are looking into the possibility the victim, identified by police as Raymond Chaluisant, 18, fired a water gun at Middleton, sparking the altercation, according to a law enforcement official.
Middleton’s attorney, Joey Jackson, said Middleton was walking when he felt something strike his back and heard objects pelting all around him. Jackson, who is also a CNN legal analyst, said Middleton thought he was being struck by the fragments of a bullet that whizzed by him, and thought there were multiple shots. That’s when he pulled his gun and fired a single shot, Jackson said.
“You’re walking, it’s 1:30 at night, you get something hit in the back, there’s mayhem all over because apparently the person was firing shots everywhere, and it was just kind of mayhem from my client’s perspective,” Jackson said. “He turns around, he sees the guy [Middleton] they engage and, boom, he fires a round, which happened to hit him.”
Jackson said the car then sped off, leaving Middleton to wonder whether anyone was struck by the shot he fired.
“He shot, he discharged his firearm in the direction of a car, not knowing whether he hit anything or anyone,” Jackson said.
Moments after Middleton’s arraignment Friday, the president of the union representing correction officers defended him, claiming he feared for his life.
“Our officer fired a single shot in a situation where he felt his life was in immediate danger, particularly after feeling something hit his back,” said Correction Officer’s Union president Benny Boscio Jr. in a statement. “We are also aware that a NYPD Traffic Agent had also reported being hit with pellets in the same vicinity an hour beforehand. Toy guns no longer resemble toys, as the images of this water pistol demonstrate and they remain an ongoing threat to public safety.”
Police said officers responded to a 911 call for a shooting at the corner of East Tremont Avenue and The Grand Concourse about 1:30 a.m. Thursday, according to the news release. The officers who responded found the 18-year-old in the vehicle with a gunshot wound to the face.
When the officers opened the door to aid the teen, they found the toy water gun, which fires gel water beads, the official said.
Chaluisant was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead, police said.
Investigators at the scene later determined the original location of the incident was near the Cross Bronx Expressway and Morris Avenue, about a half-mile away. Hours later, Middleton was arrested, police said.
Officer ‘will be immediately suspended without pay’
“These very serious charges are in no way a reflection of the officers who work to keep our city safe every day,” New York City Correction Commissioner Louis A. Molina said earlier. “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.”
The city’s correction officers maintain security at jails and other detention centers.
Middleton has been a correction officer since 2013 and his current job was working at the department’s firing range in Rodman’s Neck in the Bronx, according to a Department of Correction spokesman.
Middleton went home and then to sleep after the shooting, according to another law enforcement official. He was then believed to have gone to his job, the official said. Middleton was arrested by police at the gun range Thursday afternoon, the official said.
While in custody, Middleton made incriminating statements to investigators, the official said.
Investigators are still searching for surveillance video of the shooting.
The NYPD said in a tweet Thursday, shortly after it announced Middleton’s arrest, the bead blasters, which “shoot gel water beads propelled by a spring-loaded air pump” qualify as air rifles, which are illegal in New York City.
A police spokesperson said the tweet was not in response to the shooting, but because other cases involving gel water beads have occurred recently.