NEW YORK (AP) — A man fleeing New York City police officers on a motorcycle died Wednesday after a sergeant hurled a plastic picnic cooler at his head from close range, causing a violent crash, authorities said.
Eric Duprey, 30, who had three young children and worked as a delivery driver, was pronounced dead within minutes of being struck on a Bronx sidewalk. The sergeant, Erik Duran, was suspended without pay just hours later, an unusually quick disciplinary move by the NYPD.
New York Attorney General Letitia James, who has jurisdiction to probe deaths involving police, is investigating.
Friends and acquaintances attended a vigil Thursday night for Duprey and a makeshift memorial of photographs, candles and other mementos grew on the spot where he died.
Surveillance video viewed by The Associated Press showed Duprey driving the gas-powered motorcycle on a sidewalk toward a group of people, including the sergeant, who was not in uniform.
As he approached, the video shows Duran pick up a red object — the picnic cooler — and throw it. Duprey is struck hard. He loses control, then is tossed toward a tree as the motorcycle veers into the street. The bike smashes into a metal barricade before coming to rest against a parked car.
Police said Duprey tried to flee on a friend's motorcycle after he was caught selling drugs to an undercover police officer. The sergeant was standing on the sidewalk as part of the “buy-and-bust” operation carried out by the Bronx Narcotics Unit. Police declined to specify what drugs Duprey was accused of selling. The encounter happened at around 5:30 p.m., police said.
Reached by phone, Duprey’s mother, Gretchen Soto, told The Associated Press the police narrative was “all lies,” insisting her son was not selling drugs or trying to evade officers. She said she was on a video call with him from Puerto Rico Wednesday when suddenly the screen went dark.
“He wasn’t fleeing. He wasn’t fleeing. He was just on the motorcycle talking to me on the video chat. And he passed by that place when all of a sudden the call cut out,” she said in Spanish.
She said Duprey, who lived in the Bronx, had children aged 3, 5 and 9.
“They left three fatherless babies," Soto said. "I’m going to get justice.”
Erika Duprey Soto, 31, described her younger brother as a doting father with a lifelong passion for motorcycles, known affectionately as “Cuajo,” a slang term for ears. He followed her to the Bronx from Puerto Rico in 2015, finding work with the city’s Parks Department before taking a job as an Uber Eats driver.
Erika Duprey Soto said family members waited on the street next to an ambulance for six hours before authorities confirmed the death.
“The children don’t accept that their father is now in heaven,” Soto said. “He was always by their side. They say, ‘he’s still in the ambulance.’”
The NYPD said it is cooperating in the attorney general's investigation
“The NYPD is committed to ensuring that there will be a full, thorough, and transparent investigation of this incident to determine the facts and to take the appropriate steps forward,” the department said in a statement.
A message seeking comment was left with Duran’s union. The Daily News first reported the incident.
Duran, a 13-year veteran of the department, joined the Bronx Narcotics Unit last September. He has been recognized by the department dozens of times for what it deems excellent and meritorious police service, according to a police personnel database.
Duran's disciplinary record includes a substantiated complaint last year for abusing his authority during a stop, according to the city's Civilian Complaint Review Board.