L&O, Episode 5.06
Production number: 69409
First aired: 2 November 1994
  th of 456 produced in L&O  
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Van Buren Competence
Written By
Michael S. Chernuchin & Mark B. Perry

Directed By
Fred Gerber

Lieutenant Anita Van Buren gets into trouble after she is forced to defend herself by using deathly force.


Lieutenant Anita Van Buren gets into trouble after she is forced to defend herself by using deadly force.


On the way to dinner with her kids, Van Buren stops at an ATM for money and ends up shooting dead a mentally retarded young man named James Gordon. Van Buren claims that he was trying to rob her with another young man, but doubt is cast on her story as he was unarmed and shot in the back.

Despite being ordered not to, Logan and Briscoe investigate the supposed robbery while McCoy takes Van Buren to the grand jury with a murder indictment. Despite McCoy going after her aggressively and claiming she may have been frustrated that more white kids are taken off the streets then black kids, the jury ultimately doesn't indict her, but McCoy believes its because they want her on the streets stopping people committing crimes by any means necessary.

As a result of the shooting, Van Buren is ordered to see Doctor Olivet and she believes that killing James was a mistake, but is also angered that after all she has done in her 12 year career she is starting to lose everything. Briscoe and Logan come up with a theory based on Van Buren's story of what might've happened: the second kid, the one with the gun faces off with Van Buren who pulls her gun and shoots him in a non-fatal spot like the arm or the leg, but the bullet goes through the limb and kills James.

Briscoe and Logan check into hospital records and find a kid who got shot in the arm and took off before the cops could check it out. They find out that he used the alias of a dead gangbanger who was pretty popular. The two speak to Detective Brian Keene who had arrested the gangbanger several times and confirms that he's still popular enough that several kids might use his name as an alias. Keene points them to where those kids would hang out and they spot a kid with an arm wound named Zack Rowland and arrest him. While he confirms that he and James did try to rob Van Buren, he claims they were unarmed and tried to rob through intimidation and she went crazy and started shooting.

They are unable to locate Zack's gun, but with the help of James' girlfriend Gwen, they find it and it matches Van Buren's description of the gun pulled on her, seemingly proving her story. They also learn that Zack's brother stole it and sold it to him which strengthens their case.

McCoy charges Zack with murder for his part in James' death who had a very low IQ and according to his teacher and Doctor Ollivet's assessment of him, didn't have the mental capacity to plan the robbery with the teacher believing he was likely tricked into it, believing it was a game.

McCoy hides that James needed money to buy Gwen an ID bracelet and had "a way" of getting it which could prove that he was willingly in on the robbery, but the defense finds out and puts her on the stand. However, McCoy and Kincaid recall that the teacher had told them that James had needed her help to learn how to write Gwen's name and it would be printed on the bracelet, but he'd gotten the help some time before his death.

Realizing that James may have already gotten the bracelet which would negate his motive for committing robbery, McCoy sends Van Buren to ask James' mother about the bracelet. Mrs. Gordon refuses to help Van Buren as she killed her son, but when Van Buren reveals her immense guilt over his death and asks her to help prevent more kids from dying on the streets, the mother reveals that James did buy the bracelet, having presumably sold valuable baseball cards he collected for the money.

Having gotten the bracelet from the mother, they are able to disprove the defense's story and Zack Rowland cuts a deal. Later, McCoy and Van Buren meet at a bar and McCoy reveals that his father was a cop and if his father had been in the same situation, both kids would've been dead, not just one.

McCoy tells Van Buren that he would've taken his father to the grand jury if that had happened and would've gotten him convicted, indicating that he probably was going easy on Van Buren when he had her on trial.


Main cast

Recurring cast

Guest cast



  • Lt. Anita Van Buren: Tell me something councilor: were you born a wise-ass, or did it just come with the job?
  • Jack McCoy: I'm a pussycat. You should've met my old man.
  • Lt. Anita Van Buren: Lawyer?
  • Jack McCoy: Cop.

  • Briscoe: An ATM a day buys you a lot of ice cream.

  • Hoeck: See these bloodstains here? That's a type AB negative.
  • Briscoe: Oh good, I got dibs on his liver.

  • Briscoe: Thanks Ana. If anybody asks...
  • Ana Valdez: (rips up form and winks) Briscoe who?

  • Briscoe: (as they chase Zack Rowland) Why couldn't he have been shot in the leg?!

  • Claire Kincaid: Now all we have to do is hope that the jury understands the difference between motive and intent.
  • Adam Schiff: Good luck. That's beyond most members of the bar.

Background information and notes

This episode seems to be based on the 1984 murder of Eleanor Bumpurs, a mentally unwell 66-year old woman who was killed by the NYPD as they tried to evict her from her apartment. Bumpurs apparently held a knife and slashed at one of the officers, causing them to shoot her and sparking controversy.

Episode scene cards

1 2 3 4

Office Of
Chief Of Detectives
Det. Dennis Burnett
Wednesday, September 9

Office Of
Dr. Elizabeth Olivet
Thursday, September 10

Apartment Of
Majorie Gordon
747 West 138th Street
Thursday, September 10

Grand Jury
Tuesday, September 15

5 6 7

Office Of Executive
Assistant D.A. McCoy
Friday, September 18

Morrison Day School
123 East 103rd Street
Monday, September 21

Summers-Maddox Farmhouse
51 Indian Hill Road
Pound Ridge, New York
Monday, April 14

8 9 10

Supreme Court
Arraignment Hearing
Friday, September 25

Supreme Court
Part 68
Monday, November 9

Chambers Of
Judge Grace Larkin
Tuesday, November 10

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Season 5
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