NEW YORK – Jeffrey Johnson hid behind a car in his business suit and tie near the Empire State Building, waiting for the man he blamed for costing him his job. He put a gun to the executive’s head and fired five times, then walked off with his briefcase into the morning rush of midtown Manhattan.
Minutes later, Johnson was dead in front of the landmark skyscraper, killed by police Friday in a chaotic confrontation that sent bullets ricocheting, wounded nine other people and left sidewalks near one of the world’s best-known landmarks spattered with blood.
Police released dramatic surveillance video that showed the confrontation lasted only a few seconds. Johnson was walking rapidly down the street trailed by two police officers when he stopped, wheeled around and pulled out a gun.
About a dozen people ran for their lives, including two small children who were just feet away from Johnson. He pointed the gun at the officers, who quickly fired at him. Johnson dropped his briefcase, fell to his knees and then collapsed on the ground.
The bystanders likely were hit by police officers’ stray gunfire, some of it bullets that rebounded off planters in front of the skyscraper and grazed pedestrians.
The two officers fired 16 shots. The surveillance video shows Johnson pointing his weapon at police, but it’s likely he did not get a chance to fire, investigators said.
Startled New Yorkers looked up from their morning routines in the crowded business district to see people sprawled in the streets bleeding and a tarp covering the body in front of the tourist landmark.
Johnson had worked for six years for Hazan Imports and was let go a year ago when the company downsized, police Commissioner Ray Kelly said.
Police were looking into his relationship with the victim, Steven Ercolino, the company’s vice president of sales, who had traded accusations of harassment with Johnson when he worked there. Johnson, 58, also blamed Ercolino for his layoff, saying that he hadn’t aggressively marketed Johnson’s new T-shirt line, police spokesman Paul Browne said.