NEW YORK (AP) — A man fleeing NYPD police officers on a motorcycle died Wednesday after a sergeant hurled a plastic picnic cooler at his head from close range, causing a violent crash, authorities said.
The sergeant, Erik Duran, was suspended without pay just hours after the death of Eric Duprey, 30, in the University Heights section of the Bronx, police said.
Surveillance video showed Duprey driving the gas-powered motorcycle on a sidewalk toward a group of people, including the sergeant, who was not in uniform.
As he approached, the video showed Duran pick up a red object — the picnic cooler — and throw it. Duprey is struck hard. He loses control and then is tossed toward a tree as the motorcycle veers into the street. The bike smashes into a metal barricade before coming to rest against a parked car.
Duprey was pronounced dead at the scene minutes after the crash, which happened around 5:30 p.m.
It is against NYPD protocol to throw objects at fleeing suspects, law enforcement sources told PIX11 News.
Police said Duprey tried to flee on a friend’s motorcycle after he was caught selling drugs to an undercover police officer. The sergeant was standing on the sidewalk as part of the “buy-and-bust” operation carried out by the Bronx Narcotics Unit. Police declined to specify what drugs Duprey was accused of selling.
Reached by phone, Duprey’s mother, Gretchen Soto, told The Associated Press the police narrative was “all lies,” insisting her son was not selling drugs or trying to evade officers. She said she was on a video call with him from Puerto Rico on Wednesday when suddenly the screen went dark.
“He wasn’t fleeing. He wasn’t fleeing. He was just on the motorcycle talking to me on the video chat. And he passed by that place when all of a sudden the call cut out,” she said in Spanish.
Duprey’s brother, Ryan Rodriguez, said he was with his brother when the incident happened. Rodriguez also said his brother did not have drugs.
“The cop came and picked up the cooler. And when he saw my brother coming, he just splashed it on his face and killed him,” Rodriguez. “He was not doing anything at that moment. He was just sitting down with me when the cops came. And then he just got on the bike and he just tried to get away. When he came back, that’s what the cop did what he did.”
Duprey’s mother said her son lived in the Bronx, worked as a delivery driver, and had three children, ages 3, 5 and 9.
“They left three fatherless babies,” Soto said. “I’m going to get justice.”
Duprey’s brother echoed the call for justice.
“I want justice for my brother,” Rodriguez said. “I want him to pay for what he did. I want him in jail.”
New York Attorney General Letitia James’ office, which has jurisdiction to probe deaths involving police, is investigating. The NYPD said it is cooperating.
“The NYPD is committed to ensuring that there will be a full, thorough, and transparent investigation of this incident to determine the facts and to take the appropriate steps forward,” the department said in a statement.
A message seeking comment was left with Duran’s union.
Duran, a 13-year veteran of the department, joined the Bronx Narcotics Unit last September. He has been recognized by the department dozens of times for what it deems excellent and meritorious police service, according to a police personnel database.
Duran’s disciplinary record includes a substantiated complaint last year for abusing his authority during a stop, according to the city’s Civilian Complaint Review Board.