Two shootings by different off-duty New York City correction officers this summer happened just weeks apart. One officer who allegedly shot and killed a teenager holding a toy gun now faces criminal charges, while the other – who fired his weapon at a Fourth of July celebration – has been hailed by public officials as a hero.
Many details remain unknown. The correction officers were not wearing body cameras and police have released limited information. But both incidents raise questions about how correction officers, who are allowed to carry guns off duty, are trained on when to use deadly force outside of jail settings, and how those calculations are changing as a result of a recent Supreme Court decision over the city’s gun laws that increase the likelihood of encountering armed civilians.
Not all correction officers carry guns on the job, but whether they do or not, all are permitted to carry guns on the street – a rare entitlement in New York. Unlike the NYPD, the Department of Correction does not post a policy guide on its website, making it difficult to know what its officers are taught. And while police training has come under increased scrutiny in recent years, jail officer training has received much less attention. In response to a list of questions about its protocols, the DOC told Gothamist that its training goes “above and beyond state law” requirements and includes yearly refresher courses.
Two shootings, weeks apart
On Sunday, July 3rd, Officer David Donegan fired his gun after someone reportedly pointed a weapon at a crowd celebrating the Fourth of July weekend.
Donegan was praised by DOC Commissioner Louis Molina.
“We’re grateful that he took his action and [referred] to his training and was able to engage with these two individuals that were providing gun violence in our city,” Molina said at a press conference, while Donegan was in the hospital recovering from gunshot wounds sustained during the incident.
NYPD Chief of Patrol Jeffrey Maddrey also defended the officer’s actions.
“The primary goal of law enforcement is to protect lives,” he told reporters when asked whether correction officials are trained to shoot into a crowd. “The off-duty correction officer saw a threat and took action to stop that threat.”
Nineteen days after Donegan fired his weapon, a firearms instructor at the academy named Dion Middleton allegedly shot and killed 18-year-old Raymond Chaluisant, who was holding a toy gun, prompting a very different response from officials.
Middleton was charged with murder and manslaughter and held on a $1 million bail.
“These very serious charges are in no way a reflection of the officers who work to keep our city safe every day,” Molina said in a statement. “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.”
‘A great deal of responsibility’
Five years ago, the DOC released a three-and-a-half-minute video on YouTube that provides one of the few glimpses into its Firearms and Tactics Unit.
Interspersed with footage of recruits firing at targets, an instructor from the training academy named Tyson Jones gives a brief rundown of the department’s nine-day course, which he says includes gun safety, scenario-based training and speed shooting by the fifth day.
Jones says his goals are to “dispel a lot of misbeliefs that people have about firearms,” to help recruits feel more comfortable firing guns, and to understand the power that comes with carrying one.
“You get a shield, you get an ID, you get a gun. That comes with a great deal of responsibility,” he tells the camera.
“It’s not just something like it’s a toy or it’s something that’s cool to have,” he says. “They really understand the responsibility that they have.”