Witness of Ridley shooting slams execution claim

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A witness seen on the videotapes that captured the shooting of off-duty Police Officer Christopher Ridley at the hands of four county officers contradicted the allegation that Ridley was purposely executed.

The four homeless people who witnessed Ridley's death in January 2008 were brought to the scene of the shooting in White Plains Wednesday by attorney Jonathan Lovett, who filed a $90 million lawsuit on behalf of Ridley's father. The witnesses were not allowed to take questions from reporters and were led through their statements by Lovett.

Lovett's key witness, Efrem Burgos, claimed he saw Officer Frank Olivieri, the only white cop involved in the incident, shoot Ridley point blank while he was struggling with an assault suspect. However, the surveillance videos show Burgos crouching behind a car as the officers open fire. In his original sworn statement to police, Burgos said he stayed down until the shooting stopped.

David Hess, who was also on the scene of the shooting, insisted that the other witnesses who support the execution claim are lying. He said everyone who was in the area "ducked for their lives," and therefore could not have seen what happened. Hess himself can be seen in the video standing next to Officer Olivieri.

"Olivieri was so close to me, my ear rang for a minute when he fired his gun," he says. "But they all fired at the exact same time; nobody ran up to shoot again."

Bennett Gershman, law professor at Pace University, used to work with Lovett in the Manhattan Prosecutors' Office in the early 1970s. He says he is not taking sides in the case, but points out that if witnesses change their stories, they lose credibility. Gershman adds that any attorney who files a lawsuit based on knowingly false information could face disbarment.

"As a lawyer, as an officer of the court, you have to be very careful, you have to be [a] responsible professional," he says. "You can't make reckless claims."

The Westchester County Police Department is considering filing a lawsuit or a grievance with the state against Lovett, accusing him of making false claims.

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