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Officer who shot college student faced harrowing choice

By Verna Dobnik

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 11:48 a.m. HST, May 19, 2013

NEW YORK » The police officer who accidentally killed a Long Island college student along with an armed intruder faced the most harrowing decision of a law enforcement career: choosing the split-second moment when the risk is so high that you must act to save a life, says an expert in the field.

"The big question is, how do you know, when someone's pointing a gun at you, whether you should keep talking to them, or shoot?" said Michele Galietta, a professor of psychology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice who helps train police officers. "That's what makes the job of an officer amazingly difficult."

She spoke Sunday as Hofstra University students honored 21-year-old Andrea Rebello by wearing white ribbons at their graduation ceremony.

Rebello was killed two days earlier when a masked man walked through the unlocked door of her off-campus home. A police officer aiming at the would-be robber opened fire, hitting the Hofstra junior as well as the ex-convict holding her in a headlock.

On Saturday evening, flags on the Mineola campus were at half-staff and students held a silent outdoor vigil in front of a photo of the young woman. Surrounded by candles and flowers, they sang "Ave Maria."

Rebello's funeral is scheduled for Wednesday in Sleepy Hollow, in Westchester County, north of New York City.

Her life ended in split seconds that forced the veteran police officer to make a fatal decision, but the questions surrounding the student's death are just beginning, along with an internal investigation by the Nassau County Police Department.

The bare facts are simple. Rebello and the intruder, Dalton Smith, died early Friday when the officer fired eight shots, hitting him seven times, with the eighth bullet striking Rebello once in the head, according to county homicide squad Lt. John Azzata.

With a gun pointed at her, Smith "kept saying, 'I'm going to kill her,' and then he pointed the gun at the police officer," according to Azzata.

The would-be robber then made a motion indicating he was about to fire, according to authorities.

The officer acted quickly, saying later that he believed his and Rebello's life were in danger, according to authorities.

No doubt, he was acting to try to save lives — his own and that of the young woman, Galietta said.

But the fallout was tragic.

"What we're asking the cop to anticipate is, 'What is going on in the suspect's mind at the moment?'" she says. "We're always trying to de-escalate, to contain a situation, but the issue of safety comes in first, and that's the evaluation the officer has to make."

In collaboration with the New York City Police Department, Galietta is part of a John Jay program that prepares young officers to react to life-threatening situations. Actors are used to replicate scenarios reflecting reality.

Police tactical manuals are meant to assist officers in making the best decision possible, but in the end, "they're not 100 percent foolproof," Galietta said. "In a situation like that, you can follow procedure, and it doesn't mean it comes out perfectly."

The officer who fired the shots is an eight-year NYPD veteran and has been with Nassau County police for 12 years.

He is now out on sick leave, Azzata said.


Associated Press writer Frank Eltman in Mineola, N.Y., contributed to this report.

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Anonymous wrote:
Did Smith survive 7 shots?
on May 18,2013 | 03:45PM
SueH wrote:
Hope not!
on May 18,2013 | 04:56PM
onevoice82 wrote:
Did you actually read the entire story or listen to the embedded video?
on May 19,2013 | 07:49AM
Anonymous wrote:
Yesterday's news article did not have details and did not state Smith died. Just that Smith got shot 7 times. The article has been updated with much more details, today.
on May 19,2013 | 06:27PM
hanalei395 wrote:
Smith was trashed, he's dead. I don't know about the situation about/for the cop...... but that poor girl........ Hopefully, Smith will not get a burial. He should be chopped up, incinerated, with the ashes dumped into a sewer.
on May 19,2013 | 06:09PM
patk wrote:
Guns guns guns guns guns NRA guns guns guns
on May 18,2013 | 04:54PM
SteveToo wrote:
What the hell does the NRA have to do w/this??????????????
on May 18,2013 | 10:45PM
DeltaDag wrote:
Sadly, there is a strong tendency to "empty your gun" at a perceived threat - trained police officer or not. The common human response is to keep firing until the perpetrator goes down or until all ammunition is expended. Details in this case remain to be clarified but many regrets are sure to follow.
on May 19,2013 | 12:03AM
eros_et_logia wrote:
This is unacceptable. How tall was the assailant compared to the victim?
on May 18,2013 | 06:16PM
SteveToo wrote:
Guess he won't be carrying a gun for a while.
on May 18,2013 | 10:48PM
onevoice82 wrote:
Nope, dead men can't carry guns! Good to see Smith go, arrivaderci!
on May 19,2013 | 07:51AM
krusha wrote:
So much for the saying, one shot one kill. Hard to be prepared when they get into a situation like this with real people instead of just practicing for this situation at the shooting range.
on May 19,2013 | 07:07AM
buttery wrote:
WOW! How was the officer's life in danger? Obviously the girls life was in danger, but by whom? A lot of excuses to defend the officer! 7 shots fired by officer and one of his bullets kills the girl. The officer felt HIS life was in danger he should have stepped back. The gunman threaten to kill the girl so the officer acted quickly and fired off 7 shots. I will agree on one thing---it certainly was a fatal decision!
on May 19,2013 | 12:58PM
whatutink wrote:
This case is a very stark and unfortunate incident, which demonstrates the importance of the Honolulu Police Department's training and policies, wherein the first responding officers would attempt to make contact with the perpetrator, determine the health status and number of victims, and decide whether to back off, call for the necessary backup and wait for the Swat Team/hostage negotiator. The public sometimes questions the frequency with which HPD uses the Swat Team, but this case is certainly a prime example of what can happen if inappropriate action is taken. I'm also a proponent of returning to the use of .38 or .357 magnum 6-shot revolvers by law enforcement officers(LE0's). Since the advent of 9mm and other caliber semi-automatic handgun use by LEOs, they are firing a lot more unnecessary shots with a lot less accuracy than they did with the revolvers, often emptying a clip with up to 15 cartridges.
on May 19,2013 | 08:36PM
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