Police shot and killed an armed suspect during an attempted robbery at a Harlem pharmacy Thursday that they say was at least his third such robbery in recent weeks, law enforcement sources said.
Dramatic surveillance video released by the NYPD Thursday night shows the robbery unfolding from both inside and outside the store at 119th Street and First Avenue. One other suspect was being sought after the shooting.
Police said two men, one armed with a pistol, walked into the pharmacy and demanded cash and the painkillers Oxycodone and Percocet. Six customers, including an infant, and three employees were inside the store.
The armed suspect, later identified as 23-year-old Rudolph Wyatt, "told everyone to lie on the floor," pharmacist Frank Wong told The Associated Press. "Everyone was panicking. We never saw things like this before."
Wong gathered the drugs and handed them to the man. Meanwhile, another worker pushed a silent alarm.
But three patrol officers were already outside after a 911 call, as the robbery was in progress. Video shows the officers, guns drawn, telling the suspects to come out with their hands up. One man, dressed in grey sweats and a black sweat shirt, comes out and is grabbed by an officer, but Wyatt comes out with his gun drawn.
As Wyatt crosses First Avenue with the gun twisted behind him and pointed at the officers, one officer fires three times and misses, according to NYPD spokesman Paul Browne.
Luz Cornelo, a clerk at a pawn shop next door, told the AP that police officers came into her store saying there was a robbery at the pharmacy next door. Cornelo said she saw an officer, on one knee, "shooting like crazy," as she cowered in the store with her daughter.
Wyatt continued to the other side of First Avenue near where he was confronted again — this time by an armed retired police lieutenant. The 48-year-old former gang unit officer took cover and fired three times from 55-feet away, police said.
"I heard a barrage of shots by police," witness John Brechevich told News 4 New York. "He went down immediately, and he had a severe wound to his head. There was a large wad of cash sticking out of his pocket and he had a stocking over his face."
Police found $300 in his pocket, but no drugs.
During the confusion, the suspect who initially surrendered managed to slip away in the chaos, triggering a massive manhunt. He is seen wearing a black jacket with stripes across the front in the surveillance video.
Browne said the retired officer, who had a permit for his weapon, had no obligation to get involved, but many choose to help their former colleagues when they can.
"Most take action when lives are in danger," he said.
Police officers have more latitude to use deadly force than do civilians, including retired officers. But under New York law, non-officers may use deadly physical force under some circumstances, including when they reasonably believe it's necessary to stop someone trying to flee a robbery or to defend themselves or someone else from an imminent, deadly attack. The district attorney's office weighs whether to file charges.
Browne did not identify the retired officer. An investigation of the shooting will be conducted as is routine.
Wong said this was the first time the pharmacy had been held up in 25 years but he'd been aware of a rash of other drug store robberies around the area, including one just a few days ago in the same neighborhood. "It's gotten so crazy," he said.
Law enforcement officials told NBC New York that witnesses from two pharmacy robberies in the Bronx last month identified Wyatt as the same robber.
Officials also said he was a gang member wanted for shootings in New York and Georgia, and was listed as armed and dangerous by police.
Wyatt had several previous arrests and was being sought by the NYPD fugitive warrant squad and Georgia police before Thursday's shooting.
John Noel contributed to this story
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