Two NYPD officers were wounded Thursday night during a shootout in the stairwell of a NYCHA housing complex in the Bronx before the gunman killed himself, officials said.
The housing cops, along with another officer, were conducting a routine vertical patrol at the Melrose Houses on E. 156th St. near Courtlandt Ave. when they confronted two men drinking beer in a stairwell and asked for identification, cops said.
One of the men, armed with a .32-caliber handgun and in possession of a black duffel bag with a sawed-off shotgun in it, said he had to go upstairs to get his ID. But before he reached the next landing, he turned and fired three times at the cops, hitting one in the torso and the other in the face shortly after 8 p.m., a police official said.
Diara Cruz, a 24-year-old officer, was hit in the torso below her bulletproof vest and was undergoing surgery late Thursday. She is expected to survive, as is her 29-year-old partner, Patrick Espeut, who was shot in his cheek.
Espeut managed to fire off two shots, and the third officer fired once, a source said.
The shooter, who sources and the man’s friends identified as 23-year-old Malik Chavis, then ran into a seventh-floor apartment, where he told pals, “I just shot a policewoman. I ain’t going back to jail,” a police official said.
Chavis, has 17 prior arrests and was released from prison in December 2014 after doing time for attempted robbery, records show.
The wounded cops were rushed to nearby Lincoln Hospital.
The officers are assigned to Police Service Area 7 and have been on the job for two years, according to First Deputy Commissioner Benjamin Tucker.
“I am pleased to say that both officers have been alert and communicating, so we are praying for the best here,” Mayor de Blasio said around 10 p.m. during a press conference at the hospital. “And of course our hearts and our prayers are with their families.”
The mayor was giving his State of the City address at Lehman College, just under five miles away, at the time of the shooting. He was told of it after he spoke and rushed to the hospital.
“It’s another example of what our officers confront every single day keeping us safe, not only in the streets of New York City but in the stairwells and the hallways of our public housing developments,” de Blasio said.
A semiautomatic handgun and a shotgun were recovered from the apartment where Chavis shot himself.
The second suspect, who ran when he heard the gunshots in the stairwell, later surrendered at the 40th Precinct stationhouse and was being questioned early Friday. Three other people who were in the apartment were also being questioned, police said.
When police entered the apartment, the occupants pointed to a back room, where they found Chavis dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, authorities said.
“It was a routine patrol,” Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said of the cops’ being in the building.
“We have not talked to the officers involved. We are speaking to one of the persons that was with the shooter, the perpetrator.”
Boyce said the stairwell was well-lit, unlike the darkened steps at a Brooklyn housing complex that saw a similar patrol end with a rookie cop shooting an unarmed man dead in 2014.
Officer Peter Liang was assigned to do a vertical patrol inside the Pink Houses on Nov. 20, 2014. As he entered a dark stairwell from the eighth floor, he fired his gun and killed 28-year-old Akai Gurley.
Liang, currently on trial on a manslaughter charge, maintains the gun went off by accident.
Several cops have testified at the trial about how the beat — patrolling housing project hallways, stairwells and roofs — is often a dangerous assignment.
Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch joined the mayor at Lincoln Hospital on Thursday and talked about the dangers of the job.
“Once again we’re here at this hospital,” Lynch said. “Fortunately, this time, we’re not getting the worst news. But we still have two police officers that were shot.
“This goes to show the dangers police officers face each and every day. This shows the complex nature in which we work. It shows the difficulty and danger of vertical patrols in our buildings.”
The streets around the Melrose Houses were choked with police vehicles, and helicopters swarmed above the towering public housing complex Thursday night as cops responded to the initial reports of an officer down.
Police were seen towing a white Honda Pilot with Pennsylvania plates that a source said belonged to one of the suspects.
The development is located in the 40th Precinct, which had a 24.51% crime increase in 2015, the largest uptick in the city. Officer Sherrod Stuart was shot in the ankle by friendly fire during a wild street brawl blocks away on Jan. 9 and survived.
Witnesses described a chaotic scene. “I was coming into my building and there were mad gunshots,” said Kendrick Joseph, 18. “Pow! Pow! Pow! I don’t know how many.”
“There is as a girl and a guy cop shot,” Joseph said. “She was holding her chest as they took her out on a stretcher. It looked like her vest caught it. Her pant leg was ripped open and she was bleeding from it. The male cop’s head was wrapped and he was covered in blood. ... I don’t know how he was alive.”
A friend who knew Chavis’ family from when they lived in the West Farms section of the Bronx said she was stunned by the shooter’s bloody battle with cops.
“He grew up here since he was a baby,” the friend said. “I’m shocked. He comes from a lovely family. I can’t believe he had anything to do with this.”
Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, who was in San Antonio for a policing conference, took to Twitter to offer his best to the two officers.
“Proud of my officers, hopeful for their speedy recovery, grateful for the many expressions of concern and support on their behalf,” he wrote.
Gov. Cuomo also expressed his sympathy over social media.
“The #NYPD truly are New York’s finest, and I join all New Yorkers in praying for their recovery,” Cuomo wrote.
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