|February 8, 2016 5:45 pm|
By MARK TOOR
|PATRICK ESPEUT: Lucky to have survived.|
|DIARA E. CRUZ: Struck beneath protective vest.|
|PATRICK J. LYNCH: ‘Nothing routine about verticals.’|
Two police officers were shot and wounded Feb. 4 performing a vertical patrol in the Melrose Houses in The Bronx, underlining the dangers of such patrols as another officer stands trial in Brooklyn for an accidental discharge of his gun that killed a man while on the same assignment.
Police Officer Patrick Espeut, 29, was hit in the cheek, and Officer Diara E. Cruz, 24, in the side of the torso under her ballistic vest, police officials said. Neither wound was considered life-threatening.
The shooting occurred as Police Officer Peter Liang’s case was being heard by a jury in Brooklyn Supreme Court. Mr. Liang’s gun went off, apparently unintentionally, as he held it in his hand while entering a stairwell at the Pink Houses. The bullet ricocheted off the wall and hit Akai Gurley, 28, in the heart. Mr. Liang is charged with second-degree manslaughter and official misconduct.
“The simple truth is that there is nothing ‘routine’ about ‘routine vertical patrol’ in our city’s housing projects,” Patrick J. Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said in a statement the day after the two officers were shot. “Police Officers Espeut and Cruz were shot while performing a vertical patrol that they have both done countless times before without incident.
‘Reason They Draw Weapons’
“Encountering a perp with a gun is all too common during vertical patrol, and it’s the reason that our members, like Police Officer Peter Liang, have weapons drawn while performing this job. New York City police officers have the right to protect themselves while they work to keep the good folks who live in city housing safe.”
Officers Espeut and Cruz, along with a third cop, were conducting a patrol in the stairwell around 8 p.m. when they encountered two men, First Deputy Police Commissioner Benjamin Tucker said at Lincoln Hospital after the shooting.
The officers asked the men for identification, and one said he did not have his ID, according to the New York Times, which quoted unnamed police officials. The man led the officers to an apartment and opened fire in the hallway, according to the Times. The officers fired back.
The suspect, whom the Times identified as Malik Chavis, 23, went into the apartment and told people inside, “I just shot a policewoman. I ain’t going back to jail,” according to news reports. He then shot himself in the head.
Long Arrest Record
Mr. Chavis was released from prison in December 2014 after serving a sentence for attempted robbery. He had 17 prior arrests.
“A semi-automatic firearm and a shotgun was discovered inside the apartment,” Mr. Tucker said. “Several individuals have been taken to the 40th Precinct for investigation. The second individual who the officers encountered in the stairwell is also in custody.”
In the Brooklyn case, questions were raised about whether Mr. Liang should have had his gun out when entering the stairwell. According to witnesses, the lights were out in the stairwell, creating a hazardous condition that under NYPD rules would have justified his drawing his weapon. According to testimony, officers in the area were instructed to draw their guns as a matter of routine when entering stairwells.