New York Daily News

January 20, 2003

Cop under probe tackles gunman

By MICHELE McPHEE
DAILY NEWS POLICE BUREAU CHIEF

A cop under investigation for fatally shooting a suspected car thief this month emerged as a hero yesterday when - off duty and unarmed - he helped tackle an alleged gunman in a packed Brooklyn bar.

Officer John Brennan was eating at Lily's Public House in Bay Ridge about 3 a.m. with two other off-duty cops when a drunken patron who had been thrown out of the Third Ave. hot spot returned with a gun and pressed it to a bouncer's head, police said.

Wayne Brags, 32, of Staten Island, pulled the trigger, but his loaded .45-caliber handgun jammed, police said.

Brennan, along with Officers Phillip Roy and Eric Castagliola, tackled Brags - but the suspect pistol-whipped Brennan, pointed the gun at the officers and fled, authorities said.

None of the officers was armed, police said.

Trailed to second bar

Brennan and his fellow cops called 911 and followed Brags as he staggered up Third Ave. toward another popular Bay Ridge bar, The Loft, police said.

As Brags attempted to go inside, officers from the 68th Precinct responded and arrested him after a scuffle, cops said.

Brags, who has a rap sheet stemming from charges for drunken driving and resisting arrest in 1999, was charged yesterday with reckless endangerment, assault, criminal possession of a weapon and menacing.

Last night, police union officials praised Brennan and his fellow cops for stepping in.

"When you're a cop, you're always a cop," Patrolmen's Benevolent Association spokesman Al O'Leary said. "One way to make sure you never have problems on this job is to not get involved. But a good, active cop, like Officer Brennan, does get involved, and the city is better off for it."

Deputy Inspector Matthew Pontillo, commanding officer of the 68th Precinct, said Brennan "exhibited tremendous courage by disregarding his own personal safety in an effort to disarm a violent suspect and protect the well-being of others."

Brennan, of Brooklyn's 60th Precinct, has been on limited duty since the fatal Jan. 2 shooting of John Lagattuta, 35.

Hit when gun discharges

The shooting took place after officers chasing a stolen minivan corralled the driver in heavy traffic in Bensonhurst.

Cops surrounded the van, and Brennan tried to open the driver's door with his left hand while banging on the window with his pistol, police said. The gun discharged, and Lagattuta was mortally wounded.

Police officials have said the shooting appeared accidental. Officers handcuffed Lagattuta, not realizing immediately that he had been hit. Later, police couldn't find keys to the handcuffs as paramedics fought to save Lagattuta's life.

Lagattuta, who had a long rap sheet and once ran over a cop, was the fourth suspect fatally shot by police in the first 48 hours of the new year.

Brennan, a five-year veteran, was treated at Lutheran Medical Center for scrapes to his head and back yesterday, and could not be reached for comment.