A naked man wielding a handgun in a New York City apartment building shot at a police officer, striking his bulletproof vest, before officers killed the man in a hail of gunfire, police said Thursday. The announcement came amid speculation about another case of friendly fire, the cause of two officer deaths this year.
Security video of the hallway clash early Wednesday in Harlem shows Officer Christopher Wintermute in a wild standoff with the man, identified by police as 29-year-old Victor Hernandez, the apartment building’s superintendent and the son of an NYPD officer. In a short clip released by police, both men are seen with guns drawn before Wintermute falls to the ground.
Deputy Chief Kevin Maloney, of the NYPD’s Force Investigation Division, said ballistics tests linked the bullet that hit Officer Christopher Wintermute’s vest to Hernandez’s gun — a 9mm semiautomatic pistol that dropped to the floor moments later as he struggled with the officer. The shot damaged Wintermute’s body-worn camera, but the vest saved him from serious harm or death.
As they continued to fight, Hernandez punched Wintermute in the face and tried to grab the officer’s gun, Maloney said. Wintermute and two other officers opened fire, shooting a total of 17 times and striking Hernandez 10 times, Maloney said.
Wintermute was treated at a hospital and released the same day.
Hernandez’s mother, a police officer, called for an independent investigation into her son’s death. The NYPD says Manhattan DA’s office will review the shooting.
Eight uniformed officers responded to the apartment building shortly before 2 a.m. after a resident called 911 about a neighbor who was harassing her and acting erratically.
Hernandez, who had a history of domestic violence arrests, had been banging on a woman’s door and breaking glass, police said. He then retreated down a hallway and assumed a shooting position for two or three minutes before Wintermute encountered him, Maloney said.
It was the fourth shooting — third fatal — by New York police officers in a nine-day span. So far this year, NYPD officers have shot at suspects on 22 occasions, killing 10 of them. Last year, the department achieved a record low of officer shootings, when officers fired at suspects on 12 occasions, resulting in 4 deaths.
“We certainly have had a recent uptick in the number of officer-involved shootings,” Maloney said, adding that the latest incidents would be reviewed for possible adjustments to officer training.
On Oct. 14, police fatally shot an armed man in Brooklyn as he fired a gun at another man. Hours later, officers wounded an armed man on a subway platform in the Bronx. On Oct. 17, a sergeant shot and killed a motorist in the Bronx who police say struggled violently with officers after he was pulled over for not wearing a seat belt.
In the Harlem shooting, Maloney said there wasn’t time to call in specialized units that deal with emotionally disturbed people. Hernandez wasn’t holed up in an apartment and was an immediate threat to Wintermute by pointing a gun at him and firing, Maloney said.
Police initially said they weren’t sure who shot Wintermute, fueling speculation that he may have been struck by another officer’s bullet.
In September, Officer Brian Mulkeen was fatally struck by two police bullets while struggling with an armed man in the Bronx. In February, Detective Brian Simonsen was hit once in the chest and killed by crossfire as he and six other officers fired at a robbery suspect armed with a fake handgun in Queens.
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