A Honda was pulled over on the Grand Central Parkway early on Thursday because, the police said, it had cut off their vehicles
The shooting, which occurred at 5:15 a.m., was the latest in a series of episodes in which police officers fatally shot or wounded civilians. While the Police Department had explanations in the other instances, it could not immediately provide one for the shooting on Thursday.
The detective, Hassan Hamdy, 39, a 14-year veteran assigned to the Emergency Service Unit, fired one bullet through an open window of the car, which his squad had just pulled over with the help of a second police vehicle. The bullet struck the driver, Noel Polanco, 22, in the abdomen. He was declared dead less than an hour later at New York Hospital Queens.
Paul J. Browne, the department’s chief spokesman, initially said there were reports of movement inside the car, although he did not elaborate. Mr. Browne said a small power drill was found on the floor on the driver’s side, but he later appeared to play down the importance of that information.
“We looked for a weapon, we didn’t find any; we found a drill,” he said in a news briefing at Police Headquarters. “I’m not saying it played a role. I’m just saying we looked for a weapon. We did not find a weapon. The only thing we found was that drill.”
A passenger in Mr. Polanco’s car, Diane Deferrari, said in a phone interview Thursday night that just before pulling the car over, officers appeared irate that Mr. Polanco had cut them off. She said that one of the officers — but not Detective Hamdy — stuck up his middle finger and was screaming obscenities from one of the moving police trucks.
“As soon as we stopped — they were rushing the car,” Ms. Deferrari said. “It was like an army.”
She said a group of officers swarmed the car, yelling for the three people in Mr. Polanco’s car to put their hands up. Mr. Polanco, whose hands were still on the steering wheel, had no time to comply, Ms. Deferrari said. At that instant, a shot rang out, and Mr. Polanco gasped for air, she said.
“I felt the powder in my face,” she said.
Officers then dragged Mr. Polanco from the car and onto the highway, where traffic was snarled, as early-morning commuters slowed to look, she said.
“This is all a case of road rage on behalf of the N.Y.P.D. — that’s all this is,” she said.
Mr. Browne said late Thursday that Ms. Deferrari’s assertions would “be investigated in the ongoing review of the shooting by the district attorney and Internal Affairs.”
The shooting followed a string of fatal police encounters. In August, the police shot and killed a 51-year-old man armed with a long kitchen knife in Times Square; the police said the man had lunged at them.
Also in August, two officers fatally shot an armed gunman who had just killed a former co-worker outside the Empire State Building. In that shooting, nine bystanders were injured by bullets or ricochet fragments.
Last month, an officer inadvertently shot and killed a Bronx bodega employee: he was fleeing armed robbers and collided with the officer, whose gun accidentally discharged. And last week, officers with the Emergency Service Unit killed a Harlem man in the doorway of his apartment; the police said they had unsuccessfully tried to subdue him and he had lunged at them with a knife.
Police union officials were perplexed by the shooting on the parkway.
“I see a spike in police shootings; I do,” said Edward Mullins, president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association. “For the most part, they are all coming back as justified. This is the first one that’s up for question.”
Mr. Mullins said the reason for the shooting was unclear. He said the shooting, like any other, would be thoroughly investigated by the Police Department and the Queens district attorney.
“It’s tragic and unfortunate,” he said. “Things like this happen. It’s sad. It’s not supposed to happen.”