An off-duty New York prison worker facing murder and manslaughter charges for shooting in a car where police found a water bead gun said he feared for his life when he felt a “stinging in his back.”
Authorities said Dion Middleton, 45, shot Raymond Chaluisant, 18, in the face as he sat in the passenger side of an Acura on July 21. Police recovered an Orbeez gel-blaster gun in the vehicle. The guns have become popular on social media with TikTok posts using #OrbeezChallenge.
A New York correction officers’ union attorney said Middleton saw a passenger in the car make a hand gesture after he was stung with something that “felt like glass.” Orbeez are water-filled beads.
“I’m trying to provide context,” attorney Joey Jackson said during Middleton’s initial court appearance. “That context would suggest to the court that at the time my client discharged a single round, he was doing so under the belief that he was in immediate fear of death of his life.”
Middleton has been charged with murder, manslaughter and criminal possession of a weapon. Chaluisant reportedly died at a nearby hospital, and authorities arrested Middleton later in the day after reviewing surveillance footage. He was at the Correction Department’s firing range, where he works, The New York Times reported.
Prosecutors argued that Middleton told investigators that he never saw anyone holding a weapon or heard shots fired.
“He also stated that he was not injured and he was not hurt and he was not shot,” Justin Siebel of the state attorney general’s office said. “The defendant then continued walking on his regular course and did not at any point stop and call the police or inform anybody.”
Family members were angry to learn that the officer returned to work soon after the incident. “He did not deserve this, especially from a whole correction officer that was off duty,” said the victim’s half-sister Jiraida Esquilin. “And then for him to go to work, as if nothing happened. It’s mind-blowing … He basically had no remorse because you’re going into work the next day knowing you shot an 18-year-old little boy.”
Benny Boscio, president of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, said a New York Police Department traffic officer was also hit with pellets in the same area.
“Toy guns no longer resemble toys, as the images of this water pistol demonstrate, and they remain an ongoing threat to public safety,” Boscio said. “We will provide Officer Middleton with the best possible representation to ensure that his legal rights are protected.”
A search of the #OrbeezChallenge populates a community guideline warning on TikTok and videos appear to be removed.
However, a search of a misspelled version of the word shows videos of teenagers shooting Orbeez guns at others, including the same model found in the car Chaluisant was riding in. The grey and orange battery-powered can shoot up to eight rounds of beads per second.
The New York Police Department posted a notice on Twitter after the shooting advising that Orbeez guns were illegal in New York.
“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,” said the tweet. “Violators found in possession of these will be issued a criminal summons & the weapon will be confiscated.”
Jackson said Middleton had no way of knowing that Chaluisant was a teenager or that the weapon was a toy.
“There was no intent to kill anyone, the only thing my client intended to do was to have the ability to go home to his loved ones that evening,” Jackson said. “It is a weapon that looks real and which shoots pellets. This is all the rage, by way of context, on TikTok.”
Middleton is being held on a $1 million bond, $1 million partially secured bond, $500,000 cash, or $500,000 credit card, reports show.