The driver Buffalo police fatally shot in December before his out-of-control vehicle crashed into three light poles, killing a female pedestrian, had a blood-alcohol level four times the legal limit, authorities revealed Tuesday.
Isaac C. Parker, 48, had a blood-alcohol content of 0.32 percent, several law enforcement sources confirmed.
Thomas H. Burton, an attorney who represents Buffalo police officers in such incidents, claimed that Parker’s “whopping” blood-alcohol level remains a relevant fact for the grand jury to consider in weighing the actions of the police officer who fatally shot Parker.
“That blood-alcohol content, which is in the stratosphere by any estimation, goes a long way to explain the driver’s conduct,” Burton said. “With a 0.32, he was nothing less than an unguided missile on four wheels.”
On the evening of Dec. 6, two Buffalo officers assigned to the Housing Unit stopped Parker’s vehicle at Fillmore Avenue and Best Street.
After the officers approached him, Parker attempted to restart the vehicle, police have said. Officers later told police officials that they detected a strong smell of alcohol.
With both officers partially inside the vehicle and sensing that Parker was fleeing, one of the officers fired once from his service weapon at close range, mortally wounding the driver.
The two officers managed to get out of the sport utility vehicle, which traveled north, out of control, about four-tenths of a mile, before crashing into three light poles at Fillmore and Riley Street. One of those poles fell on top of Ida Murphy, 54, killing her.
While the justification for the officers using deadly force in that incident hasn’t changed, Burton explained why he thinks the alcohol level is relevant.
“In 99 out of 100 DWI stops, the motorist is compliant,” he said. “Being that drunk may explain why he gunned the engine and tried to take off, with two uniformed officers hanging on to him in the front seat.”
The Dec. 6 shooting has been investigated by both the Buffalo Police Internal Affairs Division and the Erie County District Attorney’s Ooffice.
District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III said his office recently received a copy of the medical examiner’s report, along with the accident report from the Buffalo Police Accident Investigation Unit.
“It is likely that we’ll present this matter to an Erie County grand jury,” Sedita added.
The grand jury presumably will have to determine whether the conduct of the police officers – including the shooting and their earlier decision to jump into the vehicle – rises to the level of criminal behavior.
But once they were inside, Burton cited the risks they faced, especially the taller officer, who dove into the car with his legs sticking out the passenger side.
“All it would have taken was a brush against a parked car or hitting a pole or a fire hydrant, and this officer may have lost his lower legs,” Burton said.
The incident also sparked a debate about whether police used excessive force in shooting Parker.
The fatal shooting was the sixth time last year that a Buffalo police officer fired a service weapon at a suspect; three of those shootings proved fatal.
A few days after the shooting, Fernando Parker objected to his brother Isaac’s getting the major share of the blame for the twin incidents that claimed two lives.
“Actually, the police killed the lady,” Fernando Parker said. “If they hadn’t shot him, he wouldn’t have hit the pole and killed her. My heart goes out to the other family.”
Fernando Parker acknowledged at the time that his brother, a former Marine, had three previous DWI convictions and that he shouldn’t have been drinking and driving. But he still questioned why his brother was shot.
“He wasn’t armed,” Parker added. “Why couldn’t they shoot the tires?”