One police officer reached into the SUV through the driver-side door, trying to turn off the ignition as he squeezed his head between the driver’s stomach and the steering wheel.
The other officer opened the passenger-side door, dived into the vehicle and tried to turn off the ignition, with his legs sticking out that door, authorities say.
Both officers then sensed the driver putting the sport utility vehicle in gear and stepping on the gas, in an attempt to flee in a Thursday night tragedy that ultimately claimed two lives near Martin Luther King Park on the East Side.
When the officer on the passenger side saw the driver extend his leg and reach for the accelerator, he fired once from his service weapon, at close range. The bullet passed through the driver’s right side and into his upper torso.
That’s how authorities believe Isaac C. Parker, 48, was mortally wounded before he drove away on Fillmore Avenue and crashed into three light poles at Riley Street. One of those poles fell on top of Ida Murphy, 54, killing the woman who had walked to the store to cash a check.
The incident once again has ignited a debate about whether police used excessive force in shooting Parker.
Thursday night’s fatal shooting represented at least the sixth time this year that a Buffalo police officer has fired a service weapon at a suspect, and three of the shootings were fatal. In the previous cases, police officials have said the use of such force was justified.
The latest incident remains under investigation by both the Buffalo police Internal Affairs Division and the Erie County District Attorney’s Office.
“There have been quite a few shootings recently,” said Larry Williams, president of the Glenwood-Fillmore-Kehr Block Club. “I can understand using force against force, but where are the victims’ weapons? Are the police feeling so threatened that they have to resort to deadly force?
“It all seems heavy-handed. Have the police taken this too far? We want to know that we’re not being targeted.”
Law enforcement sources confirmed Monday that the officer who fired the fatal shot is African-American, as were both victims.
Above all, Williams repeatedly said, he wants a thorough investigation into the events leading to the two deaths.
Thomas H. Burton, an attorney who represents Buffalo police officers in such incidents, had a different view of the shooting.
“If this guy had taken off, they hadn’t stopped him and he had killed [several others], I wonder what the Monday morning quarterbacks would be saying now,” Burton said. “The first thing they’d be saying is, ‘Why didn’t they stop the driver?’ ”
And while decrying Murphy’s death, Burton emphasized that the two incidents that night, less than a mile apart, were separate events.
“The fact that the officer acted to protect himself doesn’t take away from the tragedy with Ms. Murphy,” Burton said. “The event that started this came from a drunken driver, not from the officers who tried to stop him.”
Williams mentioned Burton without even being asked about him. “I’m not saying these officers were wrong,”Williams said, “but there seems to be a common pattern coming out of Tom Burton’s office – that the officer feared for his life, and he thought his actions were justified.”
Williams also took issue with the hypothetical question about the driver fleeing and running over other people. That’s not what happened, he said.
“What happened was that a man was wounded, he was dying, he lost control of his vehicle, and an innocent woman died,” Williams said.
As block club president, Williams said, he works well with some police officers in dealing with his neighborhood’s criminal elements.
“I don’t want to alienate myself from police,” he added. “I just want to get to the bottom of this.”
Meanwhile, Fernando Parker, brother of the driver, objected Monday to his brother’s getting the major share of the blame for the twin incidents Thursday night.
“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 that his brother, a former Marine, had three previous convictions for driving while intoxicated and that he shouldn’t have been drinking and driving. But he still questioned why he was shot.
“He wasn’t armed,” Parker added. “Why couldn’t they shoot the tires?”
He also questioned how his brother, if he was mortally wounded, managed to drive his car the four-tenths of a mile from the scene of the shooting to where the accident occurred.
“I believe they’re trying to cover the whole thing up,” Parker said.
More details emerged Monday about the traffic stop, the shooting and the crash that took “Miss Ida” Murphy’s life.
The two police officers, assigned to the department’s Housing Unit, pulled over Parker’s vehicle at about 6:45 p.m. at Fillmore Avenue and Best Street, authorities said. Sources added that they believe the driver was pulled over for having his high-beam headlights on. The officers later told police officials that they detected a strong smell of alcohol and that the man produced an ID, but not a driver’s license.
Following the traffic stop, the driver turned off the ignition and put the vehicle into “park.” But after being approached by the officers, he unsuccessfully tried to put the vehicle in gear, before turning on the ignition.
That’s when the first officer, on the driver’s side, attempted to reach in to turn off the ignition.
Meanwhile, the second officer opened the passenger-side door and dived inside, with a significant part of his frame inside the vehicle as he also tried to turn off the ignition.
“He sees the driver extend his leg and punch the accelerator, while the officer’s lying sideways in the front of the car,” one law enforcement source said, based on the initial police reports. “He shoots once and was fairly sure he hit him.”
An autopsy has determined that Isaac Parker died from the gunshot wound but that it didn’t keep him from fleeing north on Fillmore for about four-tenths of a mile before his vehicle slammed into the three light poles on the west side of Fillmore, both south and north of Riley.
The officers, who stumbled out of the moving car before racing back to their vehicle and radioing for help, were far behind the fleeing vehicle at the time of the crash, sources said.
Murphy, who was walking on the northwest corner of Fillmore and Riley, died from blunt-force trauma.