A New York City correction officer was charged with murder on Thursday in the fatal shooting hours earlier of an 18-year-old man in the Bronx, the police said, with investigators exploring whether a toy weapon found at the scene had played a role in the killing.
The officer charged in the case, Dion Middleton, was off duty when he shot the victim, Raymond Chaluisant, in the face near the intersection of the Cross Bronx Expressway and Morris Avenue around 1:35 a.m., the police said.
Mr. Chaluisant was in a friend’s car on the way to a hospital when officers responding to a 911 call found him about a half-mile from the site of the shooting, the police said. He was taken to St. Barnabas Hospital and pronounced dead there, the police said.
Officer Middleton, 45, was taken into custody later in the day at the Correction Department’s firing range, where he works, after investigators had scoured video footage from surveillance cameras in the area where the shooting occurred, officials said.
In addition to the murder count, Officer Middleton, who joined the department in January 2013, faces charges of manslaughter and criminal possession of a weapon, officials said. It was not clear whether he had a lawyer. A spokesman for his union, the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Louis A. Molina, the city’s correction commissioner, said in a statement that the “very serious charges” against Officer Middleton “are in no way a reflection of the officers who work to keep our city safe every day.”
“This officer will be immediately suspended without pay, and if the charges are true, he will face the full consequences of the law and be terminated,” Mr. Molina added.
A spokeswoman for the Bronx district attorney’s office did not immediately respond to a request for further information about the case.
The police did not provide a motive for the crime but said a so-called gel blaster had been found at the scene. There was no evidence as of Thursday night that Mr. Chaluisant had fired or even aimed the device at anyone, officials said.
A gel blaster is a type of toy gun that shoots gel beads made of water. Such weapons are often used in military-type shooting games and generally considered to be safer than so-called airsoft guns, which have a similar purpose but fire plastic pellets.
Shortly after announcing Officer Middleton’s arrest, the Police Department’s public information unit posted a message on Twitter noting that gel blasters are illegal in New York City.
“Bead Blasters shoot gel water beads propelled by a spring-loaded air pump, making them an air rifle,” the message said. “Air rifles are a violation in NYC & are unlawful to possess. Violators found in possession of these will be issued a criminal summons.”
A Police Department spokesman said the message had not been specifically prompted by the killing of Mr. Chaluisant but by several recent episodes in the city involving water-bead weapons.
The law enforcement authorities in other states have warned that the use of such devices could lead to deadly violence. In at least one instance, the grim prediction has come true.
The Akron Beacon Journal reported last month that Ohio officials said a 17-year-old boy had been killed there in an attack that began after he and several friends fired a water-bead gun at a group playing basketball near a school.