Before Shooting Two Officers, Gunman Bragged About His Plans – New York Times

A woman lighting a candle on Sunday at a memorial outside the 84th Police Precinct in Brooklyn.
December 21, 2014

The man who shot and killed two police officers in New York City on Saturday afternoon, targeting them solely because of the uniforms they wore, boasted to two people about what he was about to do just moments before he opened fire on the officers as they sat in their patrol car.

In a chilling and detailed account of the shooting, the police department’s chief of detectives, Robert Boyce, said that the gunman, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, 28, first walked past the patrol car, crossed the street and then approached the car from behind. He stood outside the passenger side window and fired four shots into the vehicle, killing the officers, Wenjian Liu, 32, and Rafael Ramos, 40.

Mr. Brinsley fled the scene but was followed by two Consolidated Edison workers who the police called heroic. They alerted the police that Mr. Brinsley had headed down onto a Brooklyn subway platform, where he was confronted by police officers and killed himself with a single bullet.

The killing of the two police officers, which Police Commissioner William J. Bratton has called an “assassination,’’ comes at a moment of heightened tension between Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Police Department.

In a stunning show of disapproval and disrespect, police officers, led by union officials, turned their backs to him on Saturday night when the mayor went to the hospital to talk about the two officers who were killed.

Flags across the city flew at half-staff on Sunday as officials from President Obama to Attorney General Eric Holder condemned the murder of the officers and offered their condolences.

In an emotional posting on Facebook, the 13-year-old son of Officer Ramos, Jaden, captured the mood of many in the department and around New York.

“This is the worst day of my life,” he wrote. “Today I had to say bye to my father. He was their for me everyday of my life, he was the best father I could ask for. It’s horrible that someone gets shot dead just for being a police officer. Everyone says they hate cops but they are the people that they call for help.”

Chief Boyce said that the early investigation into Mr. Brinsley has not revealed any gang affiliations or links to extremist groups.

Mr. Brinsley had been arrested at least 19 times, Chief Boyce said, most of those occurring in Georgia. The charges included disorderly conduct and shoplifting. He spent about two years in jails in Georgia related to a weapons possession charge, Chief Boyce said.

The police would not speculate on any mental health issues that Mr. Brinsley might have had, saying only that his family said that he was on medication at some point for behavorial issues.

During an August 2011 plea hearing in Cobb County, Ga., he was asked: “Have you ever been a patient in a mental institution or under the care of a psychiatrist or psychologist?”

According to a court record, he responded yes. The record did not provide any other details.

Last year, Chief Boyce said, Mr. Brinsley tried to hang himself. As his family had grown increasingly worried about his behavior, Mr. Brinsley seems to have bounced among different residences.

On Saturday, Mr. Brinsley began his day with bloodshed, according to the police. Before he left for New York, he entered the apartment of a former girlfriend in Maryland at about 5:30 a.m., using a key he was not supposed to have, according to the police.

The two argued and he shot her once; she survived. He took her phone and offered updates on his plans for the rest of the day.

He was armed with a silver pistol and a desire to kill police officers. He took a Bolt bus to New York and arrived shortly before 11 a.m.

As he traveled to New York, he called the mother of his former girlfriend, saying that he accidentally shot her daughter. He said he hoped she would be okay.

He also posted updates on an Instagram account.

“I’m Putting Wings On Pigs Today,” Mr. Brinsley wrote in one, according to the police, where he also referred to the death of Eric Garner, who was killed in a confrontation with the police on Staten Island and Michael Brown, who was killed in a confrontation with police in Ferguson, Missouri. “They Take 1 Of Ours, Let’s Take 2 of Theirs.”

Ismaaiyl Brinsley

The mother of the woman he was suspected of shooting alerted the police about the messages around 1:30 p.m.

The messages were cryptic, suggesting officers would die but not specifying exactly where, and investigators in Maryland scrambled to determine where they had been posted from.

Soon after, they located the posts — and a cellphone carried by Mr. Brinsley — in southern Brooklyn.

At 2:10 p.m., the Baltimore County authorities called the 70th Police Precinct in Brooklyn, where the cellphone had been last located, and told them of the threatening messages. They also faxed a wanted poster to the precinct naming Mr. Brinsley, according to the authorities in Baltimore County.

It was not until 2:45 p.m. that the information circulated widely throughout the Police Department.

At 2:50 p.m., the same information that was shared with the 70th Precinct was sent by Teletype from Baltimore County to the real-time crime center at the New York Police Headquarters.

But by that time, it was too late.

Mr. Bratton said at 2:47 p.m. Mr. Brinsley approached the officers and fatally shot them in their car in the 79th Precinct, several miles north of where his cellphone had been located by the Baltimore County police.

Chief Boyce said that moments before the shooting, a cellphone video showed Mr. Brinsley talking to two men on a street corner. He asked if they were affiliated with any gangs, urged them to check out his Instagram account and bragged about what he was going to do.

The officers were shot and killed near Myrtle and Tompkins Avenues in Bedford-Stuyvesant, in the shadow of a tall housing project, while on patrol as part of an effort to tamp down violence in the area.

Mr. Bratton said the officers never had a chance to draw their weapons and perhaps never saw their killer coming.

President Obama joined the ranks of public officials who expressed outrage and sorrow.

“I ask people to reject violence and words that harm, and turn to words that heal — prayer, patient dialogue, and sympathy for the friends and family of the fallen,” Mr. Obama said in a statement.

But the tension between City Hall and the Police Department is worse than it has been in years.

Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, laid the blame for the deaths of the officers squarely at the feet of the mayor.

“That blood on the hands starts on the steps of City Hall, in the office of the mayor,” he said.

For weeks, ever since a grand jury declined to indict a white police officer in the death of Mr. Garner, many police officers have talked about feeling as if they are under siege.

Former Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, speaking on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, said the antipathy stretched back to the campaign, after Mr. de Blasio ran on what Mr. Kelly called an “anticop” platform.

The distrust was exacerbated, Mr. Kelly said, when Mr. de Blasio spoke publicly about how he talked to his son, Dante, about the dangers he could face when dealing with the police.

As protesters took to the streets in largely peaceful demonstrations, their rhetoric was often vitriolic and personal. And two police officers were assaulted last weekend by a small group of protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge.

The police have been called killers, racists and generally condemned by the protesters.

In recent days, when New York City police officers walked into their headquarters in Lower Manhattan, they were greeted with epithets scrawled in chalk on the sidewalk.

NYPD KKK,” read one on Sunday. “Avenge our children,” read another.

On Sunday, officers, wearing black bands of mourning around their badges, walked silently over the writing.

Officials across the department were told to limit statements, including on the many Twitter accounts now sanctioned for use by commanders, “to expressions of sorrow and condolence,” according to a message sent to all precincts. Even in difficult times, the message said, “we will remain consummate professionals.”

On Sunday, the Police Department began adopting defensive tactics in its patrol strategy, ordering officers on foot patrol to stay in pairs at all times. The order came as the president of the detective’s union, Michael J. Palladino, told all precinct detectives, who usually operate alone or in pairs, to stay in “teams of three when possible until we better assess the threat that exists against us.”

That message, not an order but a recommendation, followed an official directive from the chief of patrol sent to all uniformed officers on Sunday.

“Effective immediately and until further notice,” the order to all patrol commanders and supervisors said, “there are to be no solo footposts citywide.” Meal and personal breaks “will also be taken in pairs.”

The Rev. Al Sharpton, who helped lead protests against the police in the wake of the Garner decision, held a news conference on Sunday to condemn the attack on the officers.

“If we go into an area where it is an eye for an eye, then it is only a matter of who can outpluck eyes,” he said.

After the two officers were killed, he said, he had received death threats and he is turning over messages to the federal authorities.

Mr. Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, stood by Mr. Sharpton and said the man who killed the officers was not acting in the interest of her son.

“I am standing here in sorrow about losing those two police officers,” she said. “That was definitely not our agenda.”

While there have been officers killed for simply wearing the badge in the past, the shooting on Saturday bore the closest resemblance to one more than 40 years ago.

Gregory Foster, 22, of the Bronx, and Rocco Laurie, 23, of Staten Island, had fought together as Marines in Vietnam before joining the police force. They asked to be placed on patrol together in the East Village, which was riddled with crime.

They were shot dead after walking out of a diner at Avenue B and 11th Street just before 11 p.m. on Jan. 27, 1972.

Speaking at a 40th anniversary memorial service 40 years later, Mr. Kelly recalled how different the city was in those days.

“This was a violent neighborhood, no doubt about it, and radical groups like the Black Liberation Army were specifically targeting police officers for assassination,” he said.

Mr. Kelly knew the crime well: He had responded to the scene of the shooting as a young sergeant.

Today, the city is so much safer, with violence at historic lows, making the targeted killing of two police officers that much more shocking.

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