The Subway Mugger Case

The Claim:

A convicted felon caught mugging a 71-year-old man became paralyzed after New York Transit police shot him. The jury awarded the felon $4.3 million for his injury.

The Truth:

This version of the case blatantly omits these key facts:

In June 1984, Jerome Sanducky was mugged by two young men in a subway station at 96th Street in New York City. In the station at the time was plainclothes police officer Manuel Rodriguez. The officer intervened in the mugging and shot at the two men as they attempted to escape. Two bullets struck Bernard McCummings as he fled down a stairwell, severing his spinal cord and paralyzing him from the waist down.

McCummings pleaded guilty to second-degree attempted robbery and served 32 months in prison. His civil suit against the Transit Authority was filed within a year of the shooting.

At the civil trial in 1990, it was shown that McCummings had been shot after the crime was committed and while he was running away from Rodriguez, in clear violation of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Tennessee v. Garner that police may not shoot any felon who is fleeing after committing a crime unless there is probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a threat of "serious physical harm" to an officer or bystander. McCummings was unarmed at the time and made no threatening motions toward bystanders or the police.

More importantly, it was revealed that the Transit Authority attempted to cover up the fact that McCummings was shot in the back while fleeing by concocting a false account of events and having officers perpetuate this conspiracy on the witness stand.

After four days of deliberation, the jury awarded McCummings $4.3 million, finding that Officer Rodriguez used excessive force and was not justified in shooting the fleeing mugger. Jurors later admitted that while feeling no sympathy for the felon, there was no way they could believe the ever-growing pile of contradictory statements and lies offered by the police in an attempt to hide Officer Rodriguez's culpability.

The jury decision was subsequently upheld by New York's two appellate courts, including its highest court.

Cites: McCummings v. New York City Transit Authority, 613 N.E.2d 559 (N.Y. 1993); "Why a Mugger Won $4.3 Million," The American Lawyer, May 1994, at 68.

Used with permission from The Association of Trial Lawyers of America. All rights reserved.