On Saturday, officials said the state attorney general’s office had cleared two police officers who fatally shot a man armed with an air gun during a harrowing 2021 confrontation on a Brooklyn highway.
Attorney General Letitia James’ Office of Special Investigations announced that the charges against the officers who shot Brian Astarita, 65, in front of several witnesses on the Belt Parkway, “are not justified in this matter,” the agency said in a statement.
Two police officers fired nearly 20 shots at Astarita after he fled a car stop near the Bay 8th Street exit in Bath Beach.
Astarita led the police in pursuit, crashing into a police car from behind and drawing her weapon in an encounter filmed on camera phones by several passing motorists.
The rush hour drama unfolded just after 4:00 pm on November 21, 2021, when an NYPD Highway Division 2 officer stopped Astarita’s gray Jeep Cherokee for speeding.
As she approached his car, Astarita sped off, so she followed her.
During the chase, she parked her unmarked car in front of his jeep near the Verrazano Bridge, then-former NYPD Chief Rodney Harrison said.
According to authorities, Astarita crashed into a police car from behind and continued moving, so the officer radioed for help.
Another NYPD vehicle joined in the pursuit, and they stopped Astarita’s car near the Bay Parkway Avenue exit.
At that moment, Astarita got out of his jeep, pulled out an air pistol from the back seat and moved towards the cops.
Police officers yelled several times for the suspect to drop his weapon, video footage from witnesses testifies. But the man continued to approach, so law enforcement officers opened fire.
On the footage, eyewitnesses captured the shooting from several angles. There was a flurry of at least 16 shots followed by a pause, then another shot, then another pause, then two more. Several seconds passed before two more shots rang out.
One witness dived behind his car while live-streaming the shooting on Instagram.
The officers took turns feverishly performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation on Astarita, who was crouched on the ground. Medics took him to the New York University Hospital in Langone, but they could not save him.
Astarita had seven previous arrests, mostly for motor vehicle crimes, police said.
After reviewing body camera footage, interviewing witnesses, and reviewing other footage of the shooting, James’s office decided not to file criminal charges against the two officers.
“[E]“The evidence shows that when Mr. Astarita pointed his weapon at the officers in the presence of civilians and refused to drop it, the officers who fired at Mr. Astarita reasonably believed that he could cause fatal harm to them or an innocent bystander,” the spokesman said the state’s attorney general’s office.
“In these circumstances, given the law and the evidence, the prosecutor will not be able to refute beyond reasonable doubt that the shooting officers were acquitted.
“A criminal case cannot be initiated against officers,” the Prosecutor General’s Office said.
“It was a dangerous situation,” Harrison said during the incident, stressing that the officers were acting to protect themselves and nearby motorists. “Unfortunately, it was a negative ending. But we did what we had to do to stop this criminal.”