- The Washington Times - Friday, March 20, 2009

NEW YORK (AP) - The families of two robbery suspects who died in a barrage of police bullets more than a decade ago settled a lawsuit with the city Friday for $1.15 million.

The families’ attorneys had just rested their case during the trial when the deal was announced. Relatives had sought $20 million, but their attorney said they were content, accepting the settlement as affirmation that excessive force was used.

“We believe justice has been done,” lawyer Seth Harris said. “The city waved the white flag, and this clearly shows the officers used excessive force, and these boys didn’t have to die.”

Hilton Vega was shot eight times and his cousin Anthony Rosario 14 times when they arrived at an apartment on Jan. 12, 1995. The officers, James Crowe and Patrick Brosnan, had been there interviewing residents on a tip that a robbery would take place.

The victims were face-down on the ground when they were killed. Some of the 28 shots fired hit the floorboards.

The city Law Department continued to defend the now-retired officers. A New York Police Department investigation found the officers acted within department guidelines, and a grand jury in the Bronx brought no criminal charges. Federal prosecutors said there wasn’t enough evidence for them to pursue charges.

“We believe that our police officers acted appropriately when confronted with three armed gunmen after being called by a man in fear of his life,” said Fay Leoussis, chief of the Law Department’s Tort Division. “However, we have agreed to resolve these cases in light of the uncertainties of litigation.”

Versions of what happened the night of the shooting varied greatly during the civil trial, including who was shot first, how the men came to be face-down, and what the detectives were doing at the apartment.

Crowe and Brosnan were there for at least an hour before Rosario and Vega arrived. The victims said they had come to the building to collect a debt they believed was owed to one of their girlfriends in a scam run by the man who lived at the apartment.

The officers told them to get on the ground and opened fire when Rosario and Vega did not comply quickly enough. Vega, 21, and the 18-year-old Rosario died, and another man with them was injured. The men were armed, but they fired no shots.

The officers retired from the force on a disability pension related to the incident in 1996.

The shooting happened during an era of community outrage against then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s administration over allegations of excessive force by police officers who, like those in the Bronx case, received little or no punishment. Critics said the NYPD had overlooked incriminating details because Brosnan served as a volunteer bodyguard for the mayor’s 1993 campaign.

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