A New York corrections officer has been charged in the killing of a Bronx teen, who was shot in the face in an incident where a toy gun featured in a recent TikTok trend may have played a role in his death.
After police found him in a friend’s car about a half-mile away from the scene of the shooting, Chaluisant was transferred to St. Barnabas Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Middleton, 45, was arrested and charged with murder, manslaughter and criminal possession of a weapon.
A spokesperson with the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, the union that represents him, did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Friday. It’s unclear whether Middleton has an attorney.
Correction Commissioner Louis A. Molina said in a statement to The Post that Middleton has been suspended without pay and faces termination if he’s convicted. Middleton has been with the New York City Department of Correction since 2013, according to the agency, and works at the firing range that’s part of the department’s academy.
“These very serious charges are in no way a reflection of the officers who work to keep our city safe every day,” Molina said. He added that the incident is under investigation.
While authorities have not said what they think the motive might be, investigators said they were looking into whether a bead-blaster gun that was found on Chaluisant contributed to the fatal shooting. The toy gun shoots water gel pellets.
There was no evidence as of early Friday that Chaluisant fired or aimed the toy gun at Middleton before the corrections officer shot and killed the teen, authorities said.
Chaluisant’s older sister, Jiraida Esquilin, told the New York Daily News that her brother was taking part in a water-gun fight with some friends on a hot summer night.
“They were just having fun,” said Esquilin, 29. “It’s a new nerf gun that shoots water. The whole neighborhood was having a water gun fight. It was 90 degrees.”
The amped-up toy water guns have been popular in recent months, thanks to the “Orbeez Challenge” on TikTok, which encourages users to buy Orbeez soft gel or water balls, load them in airsoft guns and fire them at people when they least expect it. Some of the videos posted on TikTok and YouTube since the spring, which have gotten millions of views, show young people firing the toy guns from moving vehicles.
Although the toy water gun is believed to be safer than airsoft guns that fire plastic pellets, police have cracked down on teens participating in Orbeez shootings that authorities say caused serious injuries. Dozens of arrests related to toy-gun shootings have been reported across the United States, stretching from Florida to Utah.
The toy water gun trend also recently turned deadly. In Akron, Ohio, 17-year-old Ethan Liming was killed in a fight last month after the teen and a few of his friends fired a toy SplatRBall water bead gel gun at a group of four people playing basketball outside NBA superstar LeBron James’s I Promise School, according to the Akron Beacon Journal.
Hours after Chaluisant was killed, the NYPD tweeted a warning regarding the use of the bead blaster guns.
“Bead Blasters shoot gel water beads propelled by a spring-loaded air pump, making them an air rifle. Air rifles are a violation in NYC & are unlawful to possess,” the department wrote. “Violators found in possession of these will be issued a criminal summons & the weapon will be confiscated.”
Bead Blasters shoot gel water beads propelled by a spring-loaded air pump, making them an air rifle. Air rifles are a violation in NYC & are unlawful to possess.— NYPD NEWS (@NYPDnews) July 21, 2022
Violators found in possession of these will be issued a criminal summons & the weapon will be confiscated. pic.twitter.com/otLkGAHFu4
Esquilin told the Daily News that the family was still grieving the loss of her father, who died five months ago. She remembered her brother as someone who was well-known and well-liked in their Bronx neighborhood who was “just hanging out and having a good time” before he was killed.
“I can’t believe a corrections officer killed my brother,” Esquilin said. “Everything nowadays is a rage thing.”