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October 20, 2023

Bronx man sentenced for shooting 2 police officers in a 12-hour period

By Samantha Max

A man who pleaded guilty to a weekend shooting spree in 2020 that wounded two police officers was sentenced on Friday to two concurrent terms of 23 years to life in prison.

Robert Williams, 49, pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree attempted murder in August, on the condition that dozens of other counts against him would be dropped.

Dozens of police officers packed the gallery of the courtroom, as did about 10 of Williams’ loved ones.

Speaking at the proceeding, Brian Hanlon, an officer Williams shot at but did not hit, described the fear he felt as he watched his partner and best friend bleeding from the face and neck, unsure if he would survive.

Hanlon repeatedly called Williams a “coward” and said he was a burden to his family and taxpayers. The officer said he hopes Williams suffers every day he’s in prison and is never released.

“You’ll continue to be what you’ve always been,” Hanlon said. “A nobody.”

Williams, dressed in a white sweatsuit, black beanie and glasses, sat still and silent for most of the hearing, which lasted about 30 minutes.

Before Justice Ralph Fabrizio announced his sentence, Williams apologized to his family and said he didn’t mean to kill anyone. But he said police had wronged him.

“They violated me and swept it under the rug,” he said. “That’s all.”

Fabrizio said the system failed by letting Williams out on parole in 2017 and that Williams was a “clear and present danger.” He criticized Williams for not showing remorse and said his words had “sealed the deal” of his lengthy sentence.

“When you attack law enforcement, you attack everybody — everybody,” Fabrizio said. “And there’s no excuse for that.”

At about 9 p.m. on Feb. 8, 2020, Williams approached two NYPD officers in a marked police van in Hunts Point and briefly chatted with them, according to court papers. Then, he opened fire, hitting officer Paul Stroffolino in the chin.

Williams later told police that he left the scene to get Chinese food and lie down at his mother’s home. Early the next morning, according to court records, Williams was in the car with his sister when they passed the 41st Precinct and he told her to stop the car.

Williams went in and started shooting at the officers inside. A bullet struck Lt. Jose Gautreaux in the arm, per court papers.

No officers died, but the back-to-back shootings horrified police. At the time, the Sergeants Benevolent Association, the union for NYPD sergeants, posted on social media that it was “declaring war” on then-Mayor Bill de Blasio, who they said did not support officers and whom they blamed for acts of violence against the NYPD.

During a recorded interview with police after the shooting, Williams said he had bought the gun he used a couple years earlier because of past incidents with police. He also said officers had used a Taser on him before.

“I’ve been having problems with police,” he said, according to court records. “I am tired of the way I was being treated.”

Williams told police he had visited the 41st Precinct before, when he was 16 years old. As he entered the precinct with his gun decades later, he said, he wanted to die.

“When I came in, I was thinking: ‘Just kill me. Just kill me,” he said.

Williams spent much of his adult life in jail and prison for past robbery and attempted murder convictions. He was released in 2017. Because of those prior convictions, the judge classified him as a “persistent violent felony offender.”

In a press conference after the sentencing, Police Benevolent Association President Patrick Hendry said the union will fight to make sure Williams is not released on parole.

“This violent criminal should be behind bars for the rest of his life,” he said.

Williams’ grandmother, Mary Williams, told Gothamist after the sentencing that her grandson was raised in the church but lost his way. She said Williams was distraught at the time of the shootings because his own son had recently died.

The New York Times has reported that Williams was in a “downward spiral” after his 18-year-old son accidentally shot and killed himself, though Williams’ grandmother disputed that account. She said “two boys” came up to him while he was talking on his cellphone and one shot him.

Mary Williams said her grandson had convinced himself that police were responsible for his son's death and that’s why he had targeted them.

Had the case gone to trial, Williams’ defense attorney planned to argue that his client should not be held responsible for the crime because of mental illness, court records show. By pleading guilty, Williams gave up his chance to make that argument.

Before officers took Williams away, his loved ones called out to him.

“Love you Bobcat! You heard?” one woman said. “Stay strong.”

Williams’ brother, Shawn Williams, said after the hearing that Bobcat has been Robert's nickname since he was young and learning to survive on the streets of the Bronx.

“When you’re in New York, you have to defend yourself,” he said.