NYPD: Teacher Killed by Cop in Crosswalk “Assumed Risk” by Crossing Street


NYPD and the city Law Department are fighting a lawsuit filed by the family of a Brooklyn man who was killed in a crosswalk by an on-duty officer, on the grounds that the victim behaved recklessly by crossing the street.

Felix Coss was crossing Broadway at Hooper Street in Williamsburg, in a crosswalk with the signal, on the afternoon of July 6, 2013, when Officer Paula Medrano of the 90th Precinct struck him with a marked police van while turning left. Coss, a 61-year-old veteran Spanish teacher, suffered severe head injuries and died that night at Bellevue Hospital.

Felix Coss. Photo via DNAinfo

Video of the crash shows Medrano stopped at the Hooper Street crosswalk on the north side of the intersection as Coss, approaching from the south, stops for the signal. When the light changes, Coss enters the Broadway crosswalk, still facing Medrano, as Medrano accelerates into the intersection and turns left, driving directly into Coss and knocking him to the asphalt.

The NYPD crash report says Medrano “had the green light,” but does not indicate Coss was crossing with the walk signal and had the right of way.

Following up on a witness statement that Medrano was on her cell phone at the time of the crash, the Internal Affairs Bureau subpoenaed her phone records, according to the Daily NewsBut just two days after Coss was killed the Post reported that Medrano probably wouldn’t be summonsed or charged by NYPD. Though Coss “had the pedestrian signal,” the Post reported, “No criminality and no traffic-law violations are suspected.”

“It was a tragic, unfortunate accident,” an anonymous NYPD source said.

NYPD denied a Streetsblog freedom of information request for files related to the crash.

Coss was survived by two brothers, who filed a suit against the city, NYPD, and Medrano, claiming Medrano was driving recklessly, using a cell phone, and failed to yield. But the city’s Law Department claims Coss was responsible for the collision.

The city’s response to the suit says Coss “knew or should have known in the exercise of due/reasonable care of the risks and dangers incident to engaging in the activity alleged.”

From the city’s court filing:

Plantiff(s) voluntarily performed and engaged in the alleged activity and assumed the risk of the injuries and/or damages claimed. Plaintiff(s) failed to use all required, proper, appropriate and reasonable safety devices and/or equipment and failed to take all proper, appropriate and reasonable steps to assure his/her/their safety … Plaintiff(s)’ implied assumption of risk caused or contributed, in whole or in part [sic] to his/her/their injuries.

The Coss family’s attorney, Andrew Levine, says NYPD and the city have resisted providing materials relevant to the case, including witness statements, which the city has failed to surrender despite two court orders. “We believe those statements are going to be very powerful evidence about the conscious pain and suffering that Felix Coss went through,” Levine told Streetsblog. “It feels as though they really put up a stone wall to try and prevent any flow of information whatsoever.”

NYPD has a history of mistreating victims of police-involved traffic crashes. The department keeps a tight lid on information related to crashes that involve police personnel, going so far as to withhold data from other city agencies, a policy that has not changed since Mayor Bill de Blasio launched the Vision Zero initiative in 2014.

Attorneys for the Coss family and the city are next scheduled to be in court in April.

“They have things in here — that he should have known, that he was engaging in a dangerous activity,” said Levine. “He’s a pedestrian walking across the street with the walk signal.”

  • neroden

    In this case, the boilerplate answer is a frivolous filing. The judge should sanction the lawyer who wrote it.

  • neroden

    That sort of behavior is the sort of police corruption which leads people to — quite appropriately — want to see all cops executed.

  • neroden

    This is a frivolous filing. It’s not appropriate behavior for a lawyer.

  • neroden

    NYPD and the city prosecutors did not do their job, yes. But also, the City should not even have tried to defend this case. It’s a waste of taxpayer money to defend a case when the city has no case.

  • neroden

    Bratton really ought to be executed for his criminal activity. Do we still have the death penalty at the federal level for conspiracy to commit hundreds of killings?

  • Alexander Vucelic

    You Might want to adjust That comment unless you desire getting a visit from your local paramilitaries at 4am

  • hang3xc

    10 mph is not too fast on a 30 mph road. When two idiots dart out from between parked cars and are suddenly 2-3 feet in front of you, there is no way to avoid them. I was found not at fault by the court, so, apparently, the judge didn’t feel I was going to fast or that I was imprudent in any way. Neither did my insurance company, which denied the parents claim.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    A narrow street at night with children playing and you drove too fast for the conditions. If you were really driving 10 MPH there would have been no injuries since impact would likely have been at less than 5 MPH. More than likely you were driving 30+ and hit them at 20MPH.

    Most Drivet do not have a clue what driving 20 or 25 is like. They think 20MPH is standing still.

    The Judge is a entitled driver so of course he’ll use a windshield perspective in such a case.,

  • Simon Phearson

    City lawyers represent their client – the city. If the city chooses to defend the claims, the city’s lawyers are responsible for doing so to the best of their ability. In this, they’d only be meaningfully constrained if the city directs them (or asks their advice) to do something illegal or wholly without legal support. Filing a response to a claim asserting that a pedestrian had “assumed the risk” inherent in an activity resulting in their death – even if apparently absurd in the specific case – crosses none of those lines. What you’re saying, essentially, is that the city lawyer would have to resign rather than defend the claim.

    As for your argument that the city lawyers should ask the judge in a civil case why the DA hadn’t prosecuted a crime and to empanel a grand jury to investigate a charge that hasn’t even been filed – well, suffice it to say, you have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.

  • Simon Phearson

    The distinction I’m trying to draw is between a throwaway, pro forma statement made in a court filing and a position, adopted by DAs, political officials, etc., that pedestrians crossing the street with the right of way “assume the risk” of getting hit by drivers.

    Read in context, it’s clear that the “assumption of risk” defense here is just one of several possible defenses that were thrown in by some underpaid city lawyer handling a low-profile legal claim against the city. They probably copy-and-pasted from some form document they have on their hard drive and went off to lunch. Like I said, call it sloppy, call it tone-deaf. But it’s not an “official position” of the city that now defines how our streets work. If the case doesn’t settle soon, the defense will probably be struck and certainly won’t succeed.

  • Danplo

    How many cops do you personally know? You ever think about what Veteran’s do for work when they get out of the Air Force, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard or Army? Check the statistics, some of those “scumbags” probably did shit for America that most will never do… “Cower behind a badge”, ha…. you are an MMA fan right? How many cops do you think train under these UFC fighters? Do some research man, even Jon Jones trains with the police and many UFC fighters work directly for the police in a training capacity.

  • Alicia

    You ever think about what Veteran’s do for work when they get out of the Air Force, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard or Army?

    That’s one thing that unnerves me: people who are trained for combat situations coming home and having to unlearn their habits in a civilian setting. Sometimes they never do, which is one reason we are seeing trends of police departments getting addicted to using SWAT teams for minor issues and buying military surplus equipment such as APCs.

    I don’t worship the military any more than I worship the police. I evaluate people by how they carry out their jobs, not what their job is. Not all police are heroes, and neither are all members of the military.

  • J Milan

    Cops are some of the worst when it comes to traffic law.

    They are instructed to get cars through to and from the freeway ramp as fast as possible. It is their prevailing training.

  • J Milan

    Our local laws are replete with little ‘interpretable’ bits of language sprinkled throughout to give lawyers stuff to get drivers off.
    My favorite is citing a pedestrian for entering a crosswalk “too quickly.”

    I don’t know if that means that he’s running faster than 35 MPH?

    Driving culture has worked for over 100 years to create their abusive domination of our public spaces.

    It should be apparent to everyone the laws are a joke, along with those ‘public servants’ required to enforce them and adjudicate them.

  • Kevin Love

    I am an Army veteran. Trust me, there is a totally different skill set and attitude between civilian police and members of the Armed Forces.

    To start with, there is no union in the Army.

  • Alicia

    My point to you is that “it” is a legal maneuver that has a specific meaning in the court context

    A meaning other than to get the cop off the hook for driving carelessly and killing a pedestrian? If so, what is that other meaning for using the phrase?

  • Alicia

    If the city is not on board with that statement, let them fire the lawyer or paralegal who inserted it. Until then, it’s clear they are fine with the use of that language. Better yet, let them not put up taxpayer money and let the officer pay for her own defense.

  • Simon Phearson

    The story isn’t about the city trying to defend itself in a lawsuit where a police officer seems culpable for the death of another. It’s a story about one specific defense (among others) in the city’s answer to the complaint – framed as asking, do pedestrians “assume the risk” of injury when they legally cross the street?

  • Alicia

    You must be a lawyer. No-one else specializes in equivocating, splitting hairs, and rationalizing wrongdoing the way you’re doing.

    a police officer seems culpable

    She more than just *seems* culpable, she *is* culpable. By all accounts she was using a cellphone while driving, which is irresponsible behavior. She might still get off legally, but since I’m not a judge and jury in this case, I don’t have to wait to express an opinion of her behavior.

    It’s a story about one specific defense

    One specific defense to allow a police officer to get away with killing someone by driving carelessly.

    framed as asking, do pedestrians “assume the risk” of injury when they legally cross the street?

    Do you think it is a moral, responsible stance for anyone to suggest that a pedestrian crossing with a legal right of way “assumes the risk” of a negligent driver hitting him or her?

  • datbeezy

    it’s absolutely appropriate for a lawyer; failure to do so would be inappropriate. It’s called “rigorous defense” and is required of any ethical attorney.

  • Terence Pang

    Cops don’t work for themselves.

  • gatrics perine

    So, her “brethren” are all backing her by saying the pedestrian was at fault and responsible for his own death due to the officer NOT paying attention to what she should’ve been while talking on the phone and looking away from the pedestrians safely crossing at traffic signal. Is SHE and her conscience going to be okay with what she isn’t “responsible” for?

  • Jonah Frech

    So, everyone realizes that this happened three years ago? Nothing has been done about it at all.

  • Frank Kotter

    Exactly SPOT ON.

    This is on the books in many states. There was an example 3 years ago (?) where a woman in her 50’s was split in half (literally) by a speeding car while crossing in a crosswalk in the middle of the day. The driver was not charged and actually won a civil case against the pedestrian because the woman did not use ‘due care’ while crossing in a crosswalk.

    That was my Sandy Hook moment. I realized I lived in an alternate reality and no amount of legal or moral rationalization on my part was going to change anything.

  • Eliot Lu

    Taking traffic school for minor traffic violation (didn’t see a no right turn on red, clear intersection though).

    I’ll quote from the first section on safety:

    It is our social responsibility to pay attention, avoid distractions,
    and demonstrate “due care.” For example, if we are obeying the rules and
    the other driver isn’t, it is still our responsibility to avoid a
    collision if possible. So, if you see another vehicle running a red
    light and you can stop or maneuver to avoid hitting it, it is your
    responsibility to demonstrate “due care.” If you see a pedestrian dash
    in front of you, it is your responsibility to try to avoid hitting the
    pedestrian. The concepts of defensive driving – “watching out for the
    other guy” come into play in these types of driving scenarios.

    I live in CA, but seriously? Double standards.

  • babybaby0

    This reasoning is egregiously circular: to decide whether a driver is responsible for colliding with a pedestrian, note that he collided with the pedestrian so he must have been driving too fast for conditions. Huh?
    You have to have some objective criteria.

    Hangexc wasn’t cited for speeding or reckless driving, but for failing to yield. The kids he hit did not have the right of way, so this was open-and-shut invalid.

    Pedestrians and playing kids do have some responsibilities too, but I don’t see any in the case this article is about.

  • Now I understand the second amendment and the right to bear arms and form our own militia. It may have to come to that, if they don’t protect us, we will protect our own.

  • Indeed had there been a split phase, this double tragedy would have been avoided… It is a recipe fo disaster to tell drivers you have the green light but you should stop… The human brain does not work that way. It is also a recipe for disaster to tell two people on a collision path that they can go at the same time…. What do you expect?
    This is collision by design..

  • Jim Sweet

    A regular citizen would be answering to a negligent homicide charge.

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