In this image taken from video provided by the New York Police Department a man, who the NYPD is seeking the public's assistance in identifying in connection to a police involved shooting, walks down a street on Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020, in New York. Two New York City police officers narrowly escaped with their lives when a gunman fired into their patrol van Saturday night, wounding one of them in an attack officials called an attempted assassination. (New York Police Department via AP)
By SOPHIA ROSENBAUM and DEEPTI HAJELA undefined
NEW YORK (AP) — A gunman is in custody after he ambushed police officers in the Bronx twice in 12 hours, wounding two in attacks that ignited outrage from officials who blamed the violence on an atmosphere of anti-police rhetoric.
The man, whose name was not immediately released, was captured after he walked into a police station in the Bronx and started shooting early Sunday, hitting a lieutenant in the arm and narrowly missing other police personnel before he ran out of bullets, lay down and tossed his pistol, police said.
That attack came just hours after the same man approached a patrol van in the same part of the Bronx and fired at two officers inside, wounding one, police said.
Despite multiple shots fired in both incidents, nobody was killed and all are expected to recover, police said.
“It is only by the grace of God and the heroic actions of those inside the building that took him into custody that we are not talking about police officers murdered inside a New York City police precinct,” New York City Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said at a press conference Sunday.
Shea called the gunman a “coward” and said he had a lengthy criminal history, including a 2002 shooting and carjacking in which he also fired a gun at police officers. Shea said the man was paroled from prison in 2017 after an attempted murder conviction.
The commissioner also lashed out at criminal justice reform activists who have held demonstrations against excessive force by police in recent months, including a large protest in Grand Central Terminal. He suggested that the protests helped create an anti-police environment.
“These things are not unrelated. We had people marching through the streets of New York City recently,” Shea said. “Words matter. And words affect people’s behavior.”
Shea didn’t offer any evidence that the gunman in this weekend’s attacks knew of those protests or was influenced by them.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, who won office partly on a promise to reform overly aggressive policing of minority communities, also suggested that while police had a right to protest, anti-police sentiment had gotten out of hand.
“This was an attempt to assassinate police officers. We need to use that word,” the Democratic mayor said Sunday.
He added, “Anyone who spews hatred at our officers is aiding and abetting this kind of atmosphere, it is not acceptable. You could protest for whatever you believe in but you cannot vilely attack those who are here to protect us. It creates this kind of dynamic.”
Robert Gangi, executive director of the Police Reform Organizing Project advocacy group, pushed back against the criticism aimed at protests, and said it was “irresponsible” for Shea and de Blasio to say the shooter’s behavior “is a result of the demonstrations and protestors who are protesting in a legitimate fashion.”
Of the shooter, Gangi said there is “no defense for a lunatic who opens fire on police.”
Two security camera videos, posted on social media, captured the shooting inside the headquarters of the 41st Precinct, which happened shortly before 8 a.m.
In one of them, the gunman is seen sauntering into the precinct lobby, before briefly disappearing off screen. Police said the lieutenant who was shot returned fire, but didn’t hit the gunman.
Then, the gunman rushed into a side room and fired at two people there, including a civilian employee, as they fled. He then retreated to the lobby and dove to the floor.
In another video from a different angle, an officer in the precinct lobby is seen reacting to the first gunshot. Officers converge, pointing their guns, and the gunman’s pistol is seen sliding away from him across the floor.
The shooting inside the precinct headquarters came just hours after another attack in the same section of the Bronx, involving the same suspect.
Two officers narrowly escaped with their lives when a gunman fired into their patrol van just before 8:30 p.m Saturday.
The two uniformed officers, partners for eight years and friends since middle school, were sitting in their van with emergency lights activated when a man approached them and engaged them in conversation, Shea said.
The man asked the officers for directions, then pulled out a gun “without provocation,” the commissioner said. The man fired multiple shots, grazing the officer behind the wheel in the chin and neck, and narrowly missing an artery.
Neither officer returned fire. The officer’s partner drove him to a hospital nearby. On Sunday afternoon, he was released from the hospital to resounding cheers and applause from a sizeable contingent of fellow officers. The officer, bandage visible on his neck, gave a thumbs-up to the crowd before getting into a waiting car.
The attacks recalled other unprovoked assaults on police officers sitting in their patrol vehicles.
In 2017, a gunman killed Officer Miosotis Familia as she sat in her patrol vehicle in the Bronx. In 2014, two officers, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, were shot dead in their patrol car in Brooklyn by a man upset about recent police killings of unarmed black men.
The killings of Ramos and Liu had also followed large street protests and some officers blamed de Blasio for expressing solidarity with the demonstrations, and turned their backs on the Democrat at the funerals.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a tweet Sunday he was “horrified by the multiple attacks” on police. “NY’s law enforcement officers put their lives on the line every day to keep us safe. These attacks are heinous.”
President Donald Trump immediately used the shootings to assail New York’s Democratic mayor and governor.
“I grew up in New York City and, over many years, got to watch how GREAT NYC’s ‘Finest’ are. Now, because of weak leadership at Governor & Mayor, stand away (water thrown at them) regulations, and lack of support, our wonderful NYC police are under assault. Stop this now!” he tweeted.
The attacks happened in the Bronx’s 41st Precinct, a once crime-plagued district whose former headquarters was infamously branded “Fort Apache,” and was the subject of a 1981 film starring Paul Newman.
In recent years, though, the neighborhood has gotten much safer. There were five killings reported in all of last year and 164 robberies, down from 44 killings and 1,095 robberies in 1990.