The outcry over the police shooting of a disturbed Borough Park man escalated this week, as family members called the incident an “execution” amid new doubts about the official version of events.
“I am absolutely furious,” said Doris Busch Bosky, whose son, Gary Busch, died in a hail of bullets on Aug. 30 in a confrontation outside his 46th Street apartment.
At a press conference this week, Bosky, her former husband and Busch’s brother accused the police of presenting false information on the altercation.
“I don’t think that anything should have been said without checking the facts,” Bosky said.
“They are scared that if they say something they won’t be invited to Gracie Mansion, they’ll be taken off the list of people to be invited to functions, the really important things,” Hikind said with a touch of sarcasm.
The comments follow reported disclosures by investigators to The New York Times that they have been unable to locate a single witness — let alone the seven described by Police Commissioner Howard Safir — to corroborate the police version of events that left Busch dead.
Safir and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani have defended the officers involved, saying Busch was in the process of assaulting a sergeant with a hammer when police opened fire.
But witnesses have since told a Brooklyn grand jury that Busch, who has a history of mental illness, had backed away from the officers and was standing up to six feet away when they opened fire. Some of the officers are also alleged to have demanded that he drop the hammer, and counted to three before four of the six cops opened fire.
“It is clear that no officer was in harm’s way,” said Busch’s brother, Glenn, a Manhattan attorney. “My brother did not have to die.”
Busch’s family has retained three high-profile lawyers, members of O.J. Simpson’s 1995 so-called “dream team” — Johnnie Cochran, Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck.
At a press conference Monday evening, Scheck said it was “likely” that the family would pursue civil litigation against the city.
“We’re certainly exploring that,” he said. “We want to do more investigating. But what we’ve seen so far is extremely disturbing.”
At the press conference, Busch’s parents took issue with the police description of their son as a deranged, violent man under the influence of drugs.
“He was in an emotional crisis, he needed help,” said his mother. “He didn’t need to be killed. He was bright and loved to cook. He was taking computer courses and made the dean’s list.”
Glenn Busch alleged that when he went to the city morgue to identify his brother and attempted to gather details about his death, officers sought to exchange details for information about Gary’s past.
“They were more concerned with Gary’s mental history than what happened that night,” he said.
Scheck likened that alleged conduct to reported efforts by police to find incriminating information about Amadou Diallo, an African immigrant, after he was mistakenly shot by police last winter.
“What happens in these dynamics is the police try to demonize the individual that is involved in the altercation with the police officers,” he said, “so if they choose to spin the story about the character of the individual, the public says he was a bad guy, he deserved what he got.”
The report in Monday’s Times brought a renewed focus on, and perhaps new credibility to, Hikind’s claim immediately after the shooting that the police conduct was questionable. Hikind this week called on the mayor to conduct an independent investigation of the incident.
Giuliani and Safir each defended his initial view of the shooting Monday. Safir said his information came from the police Internal Affairs Bureau, while the mayor called reports of a coverup “the cheapest shot [the media] have ever taken” at the NYPD.” He added that it was routine for witness discrepancies to emerge in such investigations.
But Hikind said he had found no discrepancies in the accounts of up to eight people who say they witnessed the incident.
“All the witnesses I have spoken to all told me that when the shooting took place, Gidon Busch was not in any way threatening the officers,” said Hikind, using the name Busch adopted while living in Israel and then in Borough Park. “He was holding [the hammer] above his head and not swinging it toward the police officers. He was at least six feet away. If witnesses would have told me the Safir account, I never would have raised the issue.”
Hikind insists that initial reports that contradicted the officers’ version of what happened were discounted by investigators. He said he greeted a detective from the Internal Affairs Bureau leaving the home of a Busch neighbor, who later told Hikind a version contradictory to the police’s.
Hikind identified that witness as Abe Jacobowitz, who on the night after the shooting told The Jewish Week that he did not see the police shoot pepper spray in Busch’s face. But Jacobowitz was quoted this week in the Times story as saying he had seen the pepper spray.
“That’s what really ticked him off,” Jacobowitz told the Times. “It really enraged him more.”
Response from Jewish officials to the Times story was reserved. The director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, the umbrella for 62 Jewish organizations, said his agency stood by an August statement expressing confidence in the grand jury investigation.
“We’re going to await the findings before arriving at any conclusion,” said Michael Miller.
Howie Katz, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, also said he was reserving judgment.
“We think the process still needs to go forward,” he said, although Katz termed the accounts in the Times story “disturbing.”
Hikind said that while representatives of the major Jewish organizations visited Borough Park immediately after the shooting, they have not followed up. Moreover, he implied that Jewish communal leaders who initially backed the police version of the shooting were under pressure to do so.
“A number of people who stood with the mayor during a press conference [following the shooting] represent organizations that get funding from the city. They apologized to me and said they were afraid of being left out in the cold,” the assemblyman said.
Hikind said he believes the mayor was misinformed about the crisis by his aides. Bruce Teitelbaum, the mayor’s principal Jewish liaison and former chief of staff, has said he was in Borough Park shortly after the shooting, relaying information to Giuliani.
Hikind and Teitelbaum, now director of Giuliani’s campaign exploratory committee for a U.S. Senate run, are known to be bitter foes. Responding to Hikind’s comments this week, Teitelbaum alluded to Hikind’s indictment on federal corruption charges last year, of which he was ultimately acquitted.
“Given the source, his comments should be taken with a grain of salt,” said Teitelbaum. “It’s important when assessing the truthfulness of scurrilous allegations that the credibility of the source be taken into consideration.”