NEW YORK - A police officer had just opened fire on a man he thought was a criminal, caught running through Harlem with a gun in his hand.

But when paramedics arrived at the scene and cut through the bloodied clothes, the officers realized the man handcuffed and dying in the street was wearing a police academy T-shirt underneath his street clothes and had a badge in his pocket.

He was a rookie officer chasing down a thief who had just broken into his car.

Now, police are trying to determine whether any disciplinary or legal action will be taken against the officer who fired or whether the victim, Omar J. Edwards, 25, might not have followed proper procedure.

The officer who fired and two others involved were placed on administrative duty during the investigation, and it is too early to say whether anyone was at fault, police spokesman Paul Browne said.

The episode once again raised questions about whether the NYPD is trigger-happy, especially when the targets are black. The officers are white; Edwards was black.

Edwards left his shift at the police housing bureau in Manhattan's Harlem neighborhood Thursday night about 10:30 when he noticed a man rummaging through his car. The suspect, Miguel Santiago, had used a metal spark plug to smash the window, police said.

Edwards struggled with Santiago, who wriggled out of his sweatshirt and took off running. Edwards pursued him with his 9mm Smith & Wesson handgun drawn, witnesses told police.

Meanwhile, Officer Andrew Dunton, a sergeant, and another officer in an unmarked gray police car came upon the two men running. The officers were on routine patrol from the neighboring 25th Precinct anticrime unit.

Santiago, who ran past the officers, said later that he heard Dunton yell: "Police! Stop! Drop the gun!"

That's when Edwards, in front of the police car, turned toward the officers with his service weapon in hand, police said. Dunton fired six times from behind the passenger door; Edwards was hit in the left arm, hip, and back. He died at the Harlem Hospital Center about an hour after the shooting.

Edwards did not fire his weapon, and Browne said that so far, no witnesses say he identified himself as an officer.

Dunton, 30, has been an officer for four years.

The Rev. Al Sharpton has called for a federal investigation.