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NYPD Officer Convicted in Subway Shooting of Transit Officer

March 26, 1996 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ A white police officer was convicted Tuesday of second-degree assault for shooting a black undercover transit officer four times in the back during a chaotic chase inside a subway station.

Peter Del-Debbio, 33, was acquitted of first-degree assault in the 1994 shooting of Desmond Robinson.

Del-Debbio stared straight ahead as the verdicts were read. Robinson was not in the courtroom.

A conviction on the more serious charge would have required Del-Debbio to go to prison. State Supreme Court Justice Bernard Fried, who set sentencing for May 22, can require only probation for second-degree assault.

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Some members of the Guardians, a black police organization, have said that Del-Debbio fired more quickly than he normally would have because Robinson is black. But neither side introduced the issue at the trial.

Del-Debbio, a six-year veteran, fired on a gun-toting Robinson, an eight-year veteran, as the undercover officer chased two gun-toting teens inside the subway station.

The scene was pandemonium: one of the youths had dropped a shotgun that went off, and passengers were running, screaming, hiding under subway seats and jumping onto the tracks.

Del-Debbio, who was off-duty and heading home, said he picked up the shotgun and identified himself to passengers as a police officer. Then, he said, he saw Robinson running toward him, gun in hand.

Del-Debbio testified that Robinson displayed nothing identifying him as a cop. He said he emptied his five-shot revolver at Robinson because he feared he would be shot and killed himself.

Robinson, 32, testified that he was lying face-down, his gun two feet away, when he took the last two bullets. He was hospitalized about a month with injuries to the kidney, lung, liver, spleen, heart and small intestine.

Robinson admitted that he was not wearing his badge or the ``color of the day,″ although Del-Debbio would not have known what that color was. Robinson said he did not verbally identify himself because he never saw Del-Debbio, and because the other police on the platform knew he was an officer.

Roger Abel, a past president of the Guardians, said it was the 25th shooting of a black officer by a white officer since 1941. Del-Debbio is the first white officer to be tried for shooting a black officer, Abel said.

Assistant District Attorney Raymond Castello said all evidence suggested Robinson was ``ambushed″ as he passed a startled Del-Debbio standing in the doorway of the last subway car with his gun drawn.

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Police Commissioner William Bratton incited protests when they publicly concluded soon after the shooting that Del-Debbio acted properly.

Robinson has sued the city and Del-Debbio for $50 million. Del-Debbio, who suffered a flesh wound in his right forearm from a bullet fired by a third officer, sued the Transit Authority for $2.5 million, claiming the authority created a dangerous condition that caused him to be shot.

The two teens who started the chaos were arrested in the subway station. Shea Davis, 18, was sentenced May 31 to seven years for gun possession and reckless endangerment. Damal Parham, 17, charged with gun possession, was sentenced Sept. 22 to five years on probation.