What to Know
- A NYPD lieutenant was shot Sunday morning in the Bronx, following an earlier attack on two uniformed officers Saturday night
- The attacks happened in the same precinct, just blocks from each other and less than 12 hours apart
- The NYPD believes one gunman is behind both attacks and will test a firearm recovered at the scene of the second shooting
A police sergeant's union is "declaring war" on New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio following targeted shootings at one of the city's precincts that left two officers injured over the weekend.
NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea on Sunday linked what he called assassination attempts on police officers at the 41st Precinct in the Bronx to anti-police rhetoric and the Sergeants Benevolent Association blamed the violence directly on the mayor.
"Mayor DeBlasio, the members of the NYPD are declaring war on you! We do not respect you, DO NOT visit us in hospitals," the sergeant's union wrote on Twitter. "You sold the NYPD to the vile creatures, the 1% who hate cops but vote for you. NYPD cops have been assassinated because of you. This isn’t over, Game on!"
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What prompted Robert Williams, of the Bronx, to open fire on officers is still unknown. He was captured after he walked into a police station in the Bronx and started shooting shortly before 8 a.m. Sunday, police said. His shots struck Lieutenant Jose Gautreaux in the arm and narrowly missed other police personnel before he ran out of bullets, lay down and tossed his pistol.
According to two senior law enforcement officials, Williams allegedly said as part of a rambling statement to officers after his arrest that he was mad at police, in part because he was jolted with an electric stun gun during a 2018 DWI arrest.
That attack came just hours after Williams approached a patrol van in the same part of the Bronx and fired at two officers inside, wounding one before escaping on foot, police said.
All of those shot are expected to recover, authorities said. Gautreaux was released from the hospital on Monday, while the officer who was wounded in that earlier attack, Paul Stroffolino, was released from the hospital Sunday evening.
Williams was arraigned on multiple charges including attempted murder of a police officer, attempted murder, weapons possession and resisting arrest. After the court appearance, Police Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch put the onus on prosecutors to "do their job" and keep Williams behind bars.
"Twice in a matter of hours, hero police officers had to think fast and move faster to save their own lives and the lives of cops around them. Thanks to them, this would-be cop-killer is behind bars and will face justice," said Lynch. "Now the prosecutors and the courts must do their job. Our justice system has already failed multiple times by returning Williams to the street. It must not fail again."
Under the watching eyes of police officers who packed the Bronx courtroom, the 45-year-old wore a gray sweatshirt and sweatpants, with one eye swollen shut and a bandage on his ear. During the hearing, prosecutors said Williams threatened from his hospital bed to shoot more officers if he was released from police custody.
Williams was remanded into custody after his appearance and is due back in court on Feb. 14. He was represented in court by an attorney from The Bronx Defenders.
"There is still much that we don't know about what happened and what led up to this incident," attorney Tom Klein said in a statement. "We look forward to investigating and learning more so that we can best represent Mr. Williams."
According to Williams' grandmother, Williams had been upset since his own son died after being shot in the Bronx. Also on Monday, two senior law enforcement officials told News 4 the gun used by Williams was purchased in a Spring Lake, North Carolina, gun shop.
Officials say the shop owner told law enforcement his records were destroyed in a past hurricane — making it difficult to track who first purchased the gun.
For now, police do not know how the gun got from North Carolina to New York. They also do not know if or how many times it might have changed hands, but they do say the gun was never reported stolen.
Following the comments made by the Sergeants Benevolent Association and its president, Ed Mullins, Mayor de Blasio said those kind of accusations are "absolutely inappropriate" and that he was "disgusted" by it.
"To see him try to foment hatred and division literally try to make the situation worse, it's dangerous," de Blasio said. "I’ve seen already a lot of outrage from people today, who think it’s not appropriate for anyone who wears a uniform to say things like that, especially someone who was elected to represent members of the NYPD."
The mayor added he believes there "should be consequences for that kind of speech." Freddi Goldstein, the mayor's spokeswoman, called the comments "absolutely reprehensible."
Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, condemned the attack on the officers. She said there were also concerns about Shea's words.
"Implying without any basis in fact that protesters or protest slogans are responsible for these attacks is irresponsible and needlessly polarizing," she said.
The tension between the mayor, elected officials and the NYPD has been rising following protests calling an end to excessive force by police throughout the city. The protests, Commissioner Shea suggested, helped create an anti-police environment.
“These things are not unrelated. We had people marching through the streets of New York City recently,” Shea said. “Words matter. And words affect people's behavior.”
Shea didn't offer any evidence that Williams knew of those protests or was influenced by them.
Mayor de Blasio, who won office partly on a promise to reform overly aggressive policing of minority communities, didn't disagree with Shea and the sergeant's union, suggesting that anti-police sentiment had gotten out of hand.
“Anyone who spews hatred at our officers is aiding and abetting this kind of atmosphere; it is not acceptable," de Blasio said. “You could protest for whatever you believe in, but you cannot vilely attack those who are here to protect us. It creates this kind of dynamic.”
What de Blasio and other elected officials have been doing is not enough, said Lynch.
"We've been warning about this since 2012. We warned about it in 2014 and we were ignored and two cops were killed," Lynch told NBC New York on Sunday. "Start backing our police officers. Our elected officials that stand and nod with us, it's time to open your mouth and say 'this must stop.'"
The attacks recalled other unprovoked assaults on police officers sitting in their patrol vehicles.
In 2017, a gunman killed Officer Miosotis Familia as she sat in her patrol vehicle in the Bronx. In 2014, two officers, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, were shot dead in their patrol car in Brooklyn by a man upset about recent police killings of unarmed black men.
The killings of Ramos and Liu had also followed large protests. Some officers blamed de Blasio for expressing solidarity with the demonstrations and turned their backs on the Democrat at the funerals.
Robert Gangi, executive director of the Police Reform Organizing Project advocacy group, said it was “irresponsible" for Shea and de Blasio to link the weekend's violence to recent demonstrations, which he said involved activists "protesting in a legitimate fashion."
There is “no defense for a lunatic who opens fire on police," Gangi said.
The first attack happened just before 8:30 p.m. Saturday, when the gunman walked up to the van asking the officers for directions and then fired shots, grazing Paul Stroffolino, who was released from the hospital Sunday to applause from colleagues, authorities said.
Stroffolino and his partner for eight years, Brian Hanlon, a friend since middle school, hit the gas to get away. Neither fired a shot.
Police released a photo of the suspect and were combing the city for him when he walked into the police station coordinating the manhunt, strolled to the desk and pulled a gun, authorities said. The wounded lieutenant returned fire but missed, and police personnel dashed out of an adjoining room just in time to avoid the pursuing gunman.
Two security cameras captured video of the chaotic scene. Three law enforcement sources told NBC New York that two officers from a midtown precinct had been placed on modified duty for accessing and sharing video of the stationhouse's surveillance videos — which showed the shooting inside and the arrest of the suspect. The same video they are accused of sharing eventually was obtained by the media.