(Reuters) - New York authorities have launched an investigation into the fatal shooting of an unarmed motorist by police who pulled him over for erratic driving in the early morning hours and may have shot him while his hands were on the steering wheel.
The incident occurred early on Thursday morning when a detective fired one shot into the torso of driver Noel Polanco, 22, from outside his black Honda. Polanco was pronounced dead just before 6 a.m. at a nearby hospital, police said in a statement.
It remains unclear what prompted the detective to open fire. NYPD chief spokesman Paul Browne did not return several calls for comment on Friday. Queens District Attorney Richard Brown and the NYPD have opened separate investigations into the incident, officials said.
The NYPD statement said the Honda had cut between two unmarked police Emergency Services Unit vehicles.
The Honda was speeding, police said, and had begun to tailgate another car. The two police vehicles then sandwiched in the Honda and pulled it over.
A witness to Thursday’s incident told the New York Daily News that the police action was “pure road rage.”
“They tried to run us off the road,” Diane DeFerrari, the Honda’s front seat passenger, told the Daily News, referring to the two police vehicles.
“They were shouting obscenities and the driver was sticking his middle finger out at us,” she told the newspaper. “Noel sped up to get away from the car ... I told Noel to stop the car, but we caught a clearing and took off.”
DeFerrari said several officers “swarmed” the vehicle with guns drawn and yelled for the three passengers to raise their hands. DeFerrari also told the Daily News that she complied, but that Polanco was shot while his hands were still on the wheel.
The detective shot Polanco before he even had “a chance to put his hands up,” DeFerrari told the newspaper.
DeFerrari made similar comments to the New York Times. She could not be reached independently by Reuters on Friday.
Polanco’s family also could not be reached for comment.
Editing by Eric Walsh