New York Times
May 3, 2015


Queens Man Charged With Assault and Attempted Murder in Shooting of Officer

By J. DAVID GOODMAN

With a loaded handgun tucked into the waistband of his bluejeans, the authorities said, Demetrius Blackwell walked the familiar blocks near his home in Queens Village on Saturday.

As a boy on those same residential streets, neighbors said, he had played impromptu games of baseball and football with other children, including a relative who went on to the National Football League.

But as an adult, the police said, his life took a much darker turn. He served five years in prison for an attempted murder in 2000. In November, the police said, he brandished a gun and hurled rocks at a nearby home before smashing the windshield of a parked car with a brick.

Little if any of that history was known to two New York officers — Brian Moore, 25, and Erik Jansen, 30 — as they patrolled in plain clothes. Watching for potential burglary suspects from their unmarked car, they saw a man adjust his waistband. They drove up to question him, but before they could step from their car, he turned and fired. A bullet struck Officer Moore in the face, passing through his cheek and critically wounding him.

The shooting prompted immediate fear that this was another ambush by a man bent on killing officers in a city still gripped by tension over police practices. But it erupted, instead, from a routine encounter on the street — a police stop — that turned life-threatening in an instant.

As officers descended on the neighborhood in Queens, not far from the city’s eastern edge, Mr. Blackwell did not flee. He jumped through nearby yards, getting rid of his weapon at some point, the police said, but ended up within shouting distance of the shooting on 104th Road.

There, in front of a neighbor’s home, he smoked cigarettes, blending into a crowd of onlookers who later said they had no idea that their old friend would soon be accused of nearly killing a police officer.

Officials said Officer Moore remained in critical condition in Jamaica Hospital Medical Center late on Sunday.

Mr. Blackwell was arraigned in Queens Criminal Court on charges of attempted murder, first degree assault and aggravated assault on a police officer, and two counts of weapons possession in connection with the shooting.

In a white jumpsuit that hung off one shoulder, Mr. Blackwell stood silently before Judge Michael Yavinsky in a courtroom packed with grim-faced police officers as an assistant district attorney, Peter McCormack, said three witnesses identified Mr. Blackwell as the gunman. Officer Moore had a brain injury, the prosecutor said, and “needs our prayers.”

David Bart, a court-appointed lawyer for Mr. Blackwell, said his client “emphatically” denied the charges and suggested that the arrest came without a search warrant and that it might have been the result of misidentification. Mr. Blackwell was held without bail.

Despite an extensive all-day search on Sunday, the gun used in the shooting had not been found by nightfall.

Dozens of officers, wearing purple gloves, had been seen on rooftops poking into gutters, raking through grass or taking apart sewer grates in search of the weapon in a tight radius of homes and yards near where the shooting occurred.

“It’s a tough search,” said Stephen Davis, the Police Department’s top spokesman, observing that Mr. Blackwell had more than an hour before his arrest on Saturday to hide or hand off the weapon.

Crime-scene investigators set up a tent outside a home on 212th Place, where a day earlier Mr. Blackwell stood watching the aftermath of the shooting and where he was arrested. The home sits at one end of 104th Road, a one-block street, with a direct view of the spot where officials said Mr. Blackwell turned and fired on Officer Moore and his partner.

No shell casings were found there, the police said, an indication that the gun used may have been a revolver. Witnesses described hearing at least two shots, the police said.

Unlike the killing of Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos in December, who were singled out for their uniforms by a man who cited the death of Eric Garner on social media, the shooting on Saturday appeared to have no connection to the protests over police actions in minority communities that have gripped cities such as Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore.

Speaking at a news conference on Saturday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the shooting — which came without warning or an exchange of words — served as a reminder of the dangers faced by the police, the second time this year that plainclothes anticrime officers had been shot and wounded in the city. Such officers focus on serious crime in local police precincts; two were wounded in the Bronx in January while confronting a robbery suspect.

“We’re at a time when you say, ‘Police, don’t move,’ and they start fighting or in this case, they start shooting,” Patrick J. Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said on Sunday, a day after standing with the mayor at Jamaica Hospital.

Other officers had made several unsuccessful attempts to speak with Mr. Blackwell in connection with the November episode, the police said, and it was unclear whether Officer Moore knew he was wanted for questioning. Mr. Blackwell has a history of arrests in the precinct — including robbery, grand larceny and assault — of the sort that would have made him a familiar face to some officers.

But it was his suspicious movements on the street that drew officers to him on Saturday, the police said.

With Officer Moore at the wheel, they pulled up from behind him as he turned from 212th Street onto 104th Road, a block from his home, suspecting he might be concealing a weapon or contraband.

On Sunday, a somber mood reigned around the Long Island home where Officer Moore lives with his father, a retired New York police officer. Friends and neighbors worried that the young man’s condition could worsen at any moment.

“I lit a candle today in church at St. James,” said Eileen Vanwie, a neighbor whose husband is a retired officer. “Brian’s a tough kid. He’s going to make it.”

Others remembered Officer Moore in better times, as when he entered the Police Department in 2010 shortly after attending Nassau Community College.

“I think he was one of the youngest rookies,” said Joanie Olton, a neighbor whose daughter went to the high school prom with Officer Moore. She said her daughter rushed to the hospital to be with him on Saturday.

Mr. Blackwell grew up on a block of modest homes and still lived at the same address, according to his lawyer, Mr. Bart. After the shooting but before his arrest, Mr. Blackwell gave little sign of any involvement. He had joined a group of about 10 people outside a nearby home who were watching the swarm of police respond, André Tucker, 26, said.

“He was just standing there hanging out, smoking with the rest of us,” said Mr. Tucker, who knew him from the neighborhood.

A 40-year-old neighbor and childhood friend said that like many local boys, Mr. Blackwell played in the zigzagging streets where few cars passed. A relative from the neighborhood, Kory Blackwell, went on to play professional football briefly for the Giants and moved to Long Island, the friend said, but many relatives still lived in the area.

Demetrius Blackwell appeared stuck there, both an instigator and a victim of violence. Officials said he had been shot in the hand and the leg in 1998; two years later, he was beaten and stabbed in the groin.

The police said Mr. Blackwell’s most recent arrest came in May 2013 for assault and attempted grand larceny. Prosecutors said at his arraignment on Sunday that he went by the nickname Hellraiser.

A 37-year-old neighbor, who knew Mr. Blackwell as a child and gave his name as Gary, said the time in prison changed Mr. Blackwell.

“It made him feel like there was no other hope,” he said. “After that, he changed. He couldn’t converse normally, like he used to. He wasn’t chill anymore.”

Reporting was contributed by Annie Correal, Angela Macropoulos, Jeffrey E. Singer and Liam Stack, and research by Alain Delaquérière.

A version of this article appears in print on May 4, 2015, on page A15 of the New York edition with the headline: Man Charged With Assault and Attempted Murder in Shooting of Officer