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April 7, 2004 - The Philadelphia Inquirer (PA)

Man Shot In His Apartment By Police Hopes For Justice

He Was Not The Target Of The Raid In Feb. That Cost Him A Leg. The Bucks County D.A. Is Investigating.

By Larry King, Inquirer Staff Writer

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

The violence that cost James Hoskins his left leg was instantaneous. Yet two months later, the young Levittown man still struggles to comprehend it.

Hoskins, 22, was naked and unarmed when a Middletown police detective shot him Feb. 6 in the bedroom of his apartment during a drug raid.

Neither Hoskins nor his girlfriend, who was in the bedroom with him, was the target of the afternoon raid. The Bucks County District Attorney's Office is investigating the shooting.

"Hopefully, they will say this was a crime," Hoskins said yesterday in his first public remarks since the shooting. "Hopefully, they will make the right decision."

A lawyer representing Middletown Township and Dale Keddie Jr., the officer who shot Hoskins, declined to comment specifically on the case. He did say that Keddie remains on active duty.

"We're not going to try the case in the press," attorney Joseph Santerone said. "We will wait for the district attorney to reach a decision."

Hoskins spoke to reporters from his bed at St. Mary Medical Center, where he has been since the shooting. He spent several weeks in a medically induced coma and has undergone more than 30 operations for leg and abdominal injuries.

On Feb. 24, surgeons were forced to amputate his left leg at mid-thigh.

Hoskins did not know his leg was gone, or that it was a police officer who shot him, until weeks later. He was still semi-coherent when doctors decided to sit him up in bed, but his mother intervened.

"I said, 'No, I have to tell him before he sees it,'" Debbie Hoskins said. She said she took his hand, told him that his leg was gone, that a lot of things had happened to him, but that he was going to live.

"I said, 'Give me a squeeze if you understand what Mommy is trying to tell you.' And he started to cry and gave me a squeeze," she said.

James Hoskins said the news surprised him, because he had been feeling "ghost pains," as though his leg were still there. "It was hard for both of us; we were both crying," he said.

As his condition improved, Hoskins said, he learned that the apartment intruders he had taken for robbers were actually police officers.

"I couldn't believe it, that police officers would act in such a way," he said.

Police from Middletown and two other departments were serving a search warrant targeting Hoskins' brother, David, who shared the apartment.

David Hoskins, 20, has a history of drug arrests and at least one conviction. He was in the living room when police entered. Officers arrested him after finding a small amount of marijuana, a glass pipe and $622, police said.

In the locked bedroom, Jim Hoskins and his girlfriend, Valerie Custer, 25, of Philadelphia, were lounging in bed, watching TV. "General Hospital," Hoskins said with a chuckle. "It wasn't my choice."

He recalled being startled by "a loud thud. It sounded like something came crashing down off a shelf." He said he got up to investigate, bunching a T-shirt over his genitals as he reached to open the door.

At the same instant, he said, a man in street clothes pushed his way in. Hoskins said he turned instinctively to his left, "and then a gun went off."

He said the officer had said nothing and never identified himself. "I kind of thought my house was being robbed," he said. "He didn't have anything on that said police."

The shot staggered him, Hoskins said, but he remained standing. "I turned to the guy and said, 'I don't deserve this... . Why'd you do this to me? I didn't do anything wrong."

The bullet had torn through his stomach, small intestine and colon before lodging in his leg.

Bleeding heavily and short of breath, he lowered himself onto the bed. "I said, 'Am I going to die?' He said, 'Shut the... up; you'll be fine.' "

Hoskins said he recalled a second man placing a compress against his wound before he was carried out on a stretcher. He remembered his girlfriend screaming, but nothing else that was said.

"At that point, I was only worried about living," he said. "I really wasn't paying attention to anything else around me."

When he arrived at St. Mary, Hoskins "was basically out of blood," his grandfather Fritz Wagner said. "He was very close to death."

Doylestown lawyer Thomas Mellon Jr. recently filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Hoskins and Custer. Mellon said the police records he has reviewed showed no "necessity for them to come in with their guns drawn."

Before the shooting, Hoskins had been working two jobs - full time as a supervisor at a Newtown nursery and landscape business, and part time as a service station cashier.

Hoskins, who has no arrest record, agreed to let his brother move in with him last fall, hoping to be a positive influence.

Asked whether he was angry with his brother over the shooting, Hoskins was told by Mellon not to answer. "He is a very different person from his brother," Mellon said.

For now, Hoskins, a graduate of Neshaminy High School, labors three hours a day in physical therapy sessions.

In a blue T-shirt and gray athletic shorts, he winced slightly as he shifted in his bed, but he spoke with good humor. He joked that he wanted to drink a beer and eat some chicken upon his discharge.

"My plans haven't changed," he said. "I still want to be a successful person, and to have a nice family. That much hasn't changed."

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