Eleanor Bumpurs: Wikis


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Eleanor Bumpurs (August 22, 1918 - October 29, 1984) was an African-American woman who was shot dead by police officers called to assist her city-ordered eviction from her apartment in the Bronx on October 29, 1984. The New York City Housing Authority was evicting her because she was four months behind in her rent of $96.85 per month. In requesting NYPD assistance, housing authority workers told police that Bumpurs was emotionally disturbed, had threatened to throw boiling lye, and was using a knife to resist eviction. When Bumpurs refused to open the door, police broke in. In the struggle to subdue her, one officer shot Bumpurs twice with a 12-gauge shotgun.[1][2]

Two supervisors in the city's Social Services administration were later demoted for failing to seek an emergency rent grant for Bumpurs and for not getting her proper psychiatric aid.[2]


Eviction attempt

Prior to the eviction Bumpurs, who had arthritis and other health problems, had told her daughter Mary that someone in the building was harassing her. Mary advised her to keep the door locked. Bumpurs told a housing authority official she would not pay the rent because she was having maintenance problems, but refused to admit maintenance workers to her apartment when they were sent. In one phone conversation she told a housing authority manager she would not pay the rent because "people had come through the windows, the walls and the floors and had ripped her off". Four days before the eviction, the city sent a psychiatrist to visit Bumpurs. He concluded that Bumpurs was "psychotic" and "unable to manage her affairs properly" and should be hospitalized. A Social Services supervisor decided that the best way to help Bumpers was to evict her first, then hospitalize her.[3]

On the morning of October 29, Bumpurs told housing authority workers who had come to evict her that she would throw boiling lye at the next face to appear. An NYPD Emergency Services Unit squad specially trained in subduing emotionally disturbed people was summoned, but was unable to get Bumpurs to come to the door. They drilled out the lock, and through the hole they could see the naked 66-year old in her living room, holding a 10-inch kitchen knife. The officers then knocked down the door and entered. The 275-pound Bumpurs attacked them, swinging wildly with the knife. Officers attempted to restrain Bumpurs with plastic shields and a Y-shaped bar, but during the struggle she managed to knock one of the officers to the floor. As she stood over the officer ready to attack him with the knife, Officer Stephen Sullivan fired two shots from his 12-gauge single-barreled shotgun. One pellet from the first shot struck Bumpurs' hand; all nine pellets from the second shot struck her in the chest, killing her.[1][2][4]

Public and PBA react

The case brought much notice, as the victim was black, a senior citizen, and mentally ill. The fact that two blasts had been fired also raised many questions. To meet the criticism of the public, the PBA police union put out radio commercials that sought to portray Bumpurs as a severe threat to the officers in her apartment: "This 300-pound woman suddenly charged one of the officers with a 12-inch butcher knife, striking his shield with such force that it bent the tip of the steel blade."[5] The Bumpurs case played out in the public eye at the same time as the Bernhard Goetz incident and helped to heighten racial tensions in New York City.

Grand jury indictment

A grand jury was convened to investigate Sullivan's actions. On January 30, 1985 the grand jury indicted Sullivan on charges of second-degree manslaughter, to which Sullivan pleaded not guilty. However, on April 12, 1985 Judge Vincent A. Vitale of State Supreme Court dismissed the indictment, ruling that under the New York State Penal Code "the evidence before the grand jury was legally insufficient to support the offense charged or any lesser included offense", and that Sullivan's "acts were in conformity with the guidelines and procedures outlined" in the NYPD's Emergency Service Unit manual.[4]

Indictment reinstated

The case took another turn on appeal, when on November 25, 1986 the New York Court of Appeals reinstated Sullivan's second-degree manslaughter indictment by a 6-1 vote. Chief Justice Sol Wachtler was the lone dissenter, saying that the evidence warranted more serious charges.[6]

Trial of officer Sullivan

Sullivan waived his right to a jury trial, choosing a bench trial before a judge only. The trial opened on January 12, 1987, over two years after Bumpurs' death. The trial hinged on whether Sullivan had used excessive force, especially in firing twice at Bumpurs. His fellow officers testified that Bumpurs was still not immobilized after the first blast hit her hand, and therefore still posed a threat to the police. In addition, two doctors testified that Bumpurs could have still made stabbing motions even after her hand had been injured by the first shotgun blast.


On February 26, 1987 Judge Fred W. Eggert acquitted Sullivan on the charges of manslaughter.[7] On August 4, 1987 federal prosecutors declined to investigate the Bumpurs case. Rudy Giuliani who was the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan at the time, stated that he had found "nothing indicating that the case was not tried fully, fairly and competently", and that there was no "proof of a specific intent to inflict excessive and unjustified force."[8]

Civil suit and settlement

The Bumpurs family filed a civil suit against the city for $10 million in damages.[6] In March 1990, the city agreed to pay $200,000 to the Bumpurs estate, marking a close to the legal proceedings stemming from the shooting.

Legacy of Bumpurs case

The Bumpurs case was one of several racially charged cases in New York during the 1980s that exacerbated racial tensions. Others were the fatal assault on Willie Turks in 1982, the 1983 arrest and death of Michael Stewart while in police custody, the subway shooting of four men by Bernhard Goetz in 1984, the fatal assault on Michael Griffith in 1986, the shooting of six NYPD officers by Larry Davis also in 1986, and the murder of Yusef Hawkins in 1989.


  1. ^ a b Wilson, Michael (2003-12-28). "When Mental Illness Meets Police Firepower; Shift in Training for Officers Reflects Lessons of Encounters Gone Awry". The New York Times. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9804EEDE123EF93BA15751C1A9659C8B63&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=all. Retrieved 2003-12-28. "In 1984, a 66-year-old woman named Eleanor Bumpurs, four months behind in the $98.65 rent at her Bronx apartment, threatened housing workers who came to evict her that she would hurl boiling lye at the next face at her door. Officers arrived with shields and a special Y-shaped bar used to pin people to the wall, but the woman, almost 300 pounds and naked, fought her way free, waving a knife and trying to slash an officer. His partner shot her twice with a shotgun, once in the hand and once, fatally, in the chest."  
  2. ^ a b c Raab, Selwyn (1984-11-27). "AUTOPSY FINDS BUMPURS WAS HIT BY TWO BLASTS". The New York Times. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9A07E4DE1738F934A15752C1A962948260&scp=6&sq=bumpurs+hand+shot&st=nyt. Retrieved 2008-02-17. "An autopsy on a Bronx woman who was fatally shot by the police in an eviction dispute indicates that she was hit by two shotgun blasts, not one, as originally reported by police officials."  
  3. ^ Merola, Mario (1988). Big City D.A.. Random House. pp. 7–27. ISBN 0-394-55263-6.  
  4. ^ a b Raab, Selwyn (1985-04-13). "STATE JUDGE DISMISSES INDICTMENT OF OFFICER IN THE BUMPURS KILLING". The New York Times. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9906E5DB1038F930A25757C0A963948260&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=all. Retrieved 2008-02-17. "In his ruling, the judge said there was testimony that when the officers assured Mrs. Bumpurs 'there was no desire to hurt her,' she responded 'with repeated threats' and displayed a large knife."  
  5. ^ Buder, Leonard.Officers' Union Runs Ads Backing Action Of Police in Bumpurs Case." New York Times 13 December 1984, p. B18.
  6. ^ a b Hevesi, Dennis (1986-11-26). "COURT ALLOWS BUMPURS CASE TO BE TRIED". The New York Times. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9A0DE7DF1631F935A15752C1A960948260&scp=1&sq=bumpurs+wachtler&st=nyt. Retrieved 2008-02-17. "New York State's highest court reinstated a manslaughter charge yesterday against a police officer who killed a knife-wielding, emotionally disturbed woman during an attempt to evict her from her Bronx apartment in 1984."  
  7. ^ Prial, Frank J. "Judge Acquits Sullivan In Shotgun Slaying of Bumpurs." New York Times 27 February 1987, p. B1.
  8. ^ "U.S. Inquiry Ruled Out In Death of Bumpurs." New York Times 5 August 1987, p. B3.


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