A retired NYPD officer working security at a Tourneau store in a Long Island mall heroically wrestled with a gunman who tried to steal an $18,000 Rolex watch Tuesday, grabbing the gun and causing it to jam in what authorities described Wednesday as a "life-and-death struggle."
Alleged gunman Oliver Lee, 21, managed to get off one shot before retired NYPD detective sergeant Kenneth Krug, a Nassau County resident now working security at the Roosevelt Field Mall, and two other mall guards, Marcelo Espinoza and Leroy Bobbitt, managed to subdue him.
A 67-year-old mall employee was shot in the back. He was taken to a hospital in stable condition and is expected to be released later Wednesday, authorities said.
Lee, who has no prior convictions and had no license for the gun allegedly in his possession, walked into the Rolex arm of the Tourneau store at the mall around 1 p.m. Tuesday and asked to see an $18,000 watch, authorities said at a news briefing. Lee was taken into a secure viewing area to look at the watch, and there he allegedly displayed a gun and demanded the item be handed over.
Police say Krug had been monitoring the situation and immediately looked to subdue and disarm Lee. The two began struggling in the back of the store and the battle spilled out into the main concourse of the mall, where Bobbitt and Espinoza joined Krug in his effort to subdue the suspect.
Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano called Krug a hero Wednesday, saying he was "apparently in the fight of his life."
"God knows what could have occurred had he made his way out of the store into the mall," Mangano said."He really did a heroic act that day by making sure that perpetrator was detained and the gun was taken away."
Mangano also praised the actions of the two security guards who assisted him. Krug sustained contusions to his head and hand in the struggle. Espinoza broke his hand. Krug was armed but wasn't able to pull his own weapon as he struggled with the suspect; the other guards were unarmed.
The scuffle sparked a panicked stampede of shoppers in the mall, which was packed with buyers three days before Christmas. Five or six other people had minor injuries in the fray, authorities said, but they either refused medical attention or were treated at the scene. The mall was never shut down, but some stores shut their doors as confused shoppers sought cover.
Lee was charged Wednesday with various counts of robbery, assault and criminal possession of a weapon. He pleaded not guilty at his arraignment and was ordered held on $750,000 bail. A message left seeking comment from the attorney representing Lee wasn't immediately returned.
Authorities say the watch he allegedly grabbed was recovered where he was subdued.