A gangbanger was killed and a police officer was wounded in a wild gun battle in Washington Heights on Thursday afternoon, police sources said.
The officer’s wound was not life-threatening.
“This was a fast, intense episode. Thank God it came out the way it did,” Mayor de Blasio said at a news conference at Mt. Sinai/St. Luke’s Hospital, where the wounded cop was taken for treatment.
Police responded about 4:24 p.m. to a report of a gunman firing into the air near W. 187th St. and Wadsworth Ave.
“Officers observed and approached a man who matched the description given in the 911 call,” said Police Commissioner James O’Neill.
The suspect, gun in hand, ran off toward a parking lot nearby, on Broadway just north of W. 187th St.
The suspect ran to the back of the parking lot, and hid behind a car parked by its rear wall.
“Our officer takes cover behind a vehicle three cars away,” said O’Neill. “The suspect then fires three rounds at the police officer, who was struck in the right armpit. The wounded officer fires back one time.”
“I’m hit! I’m hit under the arm!” the wounded officer radioed his colleagues. Sources identified the wounded cop as Justin Vartanian of the 34th Precinct Anti-Crime Squad.
During the gunfire exchange, the officer’s partner -- also a 34th Precinct anti-crime officer -- drove an unmarked police car into the lot, got out, and took a position in front of his car.
“One bullet fired by the suspect goes past this officer and through the windshield of the police car,” O’Neill said.
“The second officer then fires three rounds at the suspect. The perpetrator was struck one time in the chest.”
A few seconds reporting he was hit, Vartanian was on the radio again. “I’m good right now,” he said. The officer reported his wound was under his arm.
The wounded officer appeared to be wearing body armor, said neighborhood resident Louis Corporan. “They grabbed him and put him in the ambulance,” the witness said. O’Neill confirmed he was wearing a bullet-proof vest.
Vartanian was rushed to Mt. Sinai/St Luke’s Hospital in stable condition.
The suspect, identified by family as Luis Reyes, 42, was taken to Columbia Presbyterian hospital a few blocks away. He was declared dead at 5:10 p.m.
His brother, who didn’t give his name, gathered with mourners to smoke weed and light candles at a makeshift memorial near Reyes’ W. 187th St. home.
He confirmed Reyes fired his gun in the air, but wouldn’t speak more about it.
Reyes went by the street name “Murphy Brown,” a moniker his brother and friends could not explain.
“He didn’t deserve this. How come they couldn’t shoot him in the leg and not in the chest?" his brother said. "He was never a gangbanger. Never. He had so much love for everyone.”
A man apprehended at the scene and initially thought to be a shooter was trying to film the incident with his mobile phone, said a police source. He is now being treated as a witness in the case, the source said.
A relative identified him as Abel Noak, and explained he was trying "to see what was happening.”
De Blasio praised responding officers’ “extraordinary professionalism and courage.”
"These officers did everything right to protect the people of this community ... Thank God they’re going to be OK,” the mayor said.