A top NYPD official has warned officers not to wear their police uniforms or department logos in public following back-to-back assassination attempts on cops in the Bronx.
Hazel Jennings, chief of the Department of Corrections, issued a memo on Sunday night essentially urging officers to hide their police affiliation to avoid being targeted.
The memo came after a career criminal carried out two separate attacks on officers in the Bronx in the span of just 12 hours, leaving two officers injured.
Robert Williams, 45, was taken into custody on Sunday after he allegedly opened fire on a police station in the Bronx shortly before 8am. He struck Lt Jose Gautreaux in the arm and narrowly missed other police personnel before the running out of bullets, lying down and tossing his pistol as he was swarmed by officers.
Hours earlier, Williams approached a patrol van in the same part of the Bronx late Saturday and fired at two officers inside, wounding one before escaping on foot, police said.
The suspect – who was out on parole after a 2002 attempted murder conviction – was seen handcuffed to a hospital bed on Sunday in photos obtained exclusively by DailyMail.com. He is expected to be arraigned on Monday morning.
Authorities said they brought a woman in for questioning who is believed to be Williams’ girlfriend Liza T Valdez, a communications technician for the NYPD.
New York City leaders held a press conference on the case on Sunday afternoon, where NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea and Mayor Bill de Blasio blamed the attacks on an anti-police atmosphere fueled by recent protests.
Shea hit out at criminal justice reform activists who’ve held demonstrations against use of excessive force, referencing a protest on January 31 in which dozens of members of a radical police-hating group stormed Grand Central Terminal chanting anti-NYPD slogans including ‘F**k cops!’ Cops
‘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.
De Blasio, who was elected partly on a promise to reform overly aggressive policing of minority communities, also suggested 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.’
Robert Williams was quietly brought to Bronx Central Booking tonight under the cover of darkness. He was transported from St. Barnabas Hospital in a motorcade complete with heavily armed @NYPDSpecialops officers. https://t.co/PZbxTwq4QD pic.twitter.com/HZrFq2zhoW
The first attack unfolded just before 8.30pm Saturday when a man approached a locked police van with its emergency lights activated and asked the officers inside, Paul Stroffolino, 31, and Brian Hanlon, 33, for directions.
The suspect then pulled out a gun ‘without provocation’ and fired multiple shots into the van, striking Stroffolino on the chin and neck, narrowly missing his carotid artery.
Neither Stroffolino nor Hanlon, who have been friends since middle school and partners for eight years, fired a single shot. Hanlon then drove Stroffolino to a nearby hospital, where he was held overnight for observation.
The shooting happened near the junction of East 163 and Barretto streets, where the officers were stationed because of recent drug activity and violence, officials said.
Police released a photograph of the suspected shooter and were combing the city for him when Williams walked into the police station coordinating the manhunt, strolled to the desk and brandished a gun just before 8am.
Two security cameras captured video of the chaotic scene at the 41st precinct station.
Williams struck Gautreaux, who was sitting at the front desk, and the lieutenant returned fire but did not hit the suspect.
He then rushed into a side room and fired at two people, including a civilian employee, before retreating into the lobby and diving on the floor when he ran out of ammunition.
Video from a different angle shows an officer in the precinct lobby reacting to the first gunshot. One uniformed cop is seen punching the suspect as other officers converge, pointing their guns, and the gunman’s pistol is seen sliding away from him across the floor.
Breaking: Bronx: Watch the Suspect entering the @NYPD41Pct, shooting the Lieutenants at the 2nd shooting in the #Bronx $Longwood #LongwoodBronx #Breaking #NYPD pic.twitter.com/a2hvE70HrL
At Sunday’s press conference, Commissioner Shea said that the suspect was paroled in 2017 for an attempted murder conviction in 2002 in the Bronx. He said the suspect had carjacked a woman, crashed the car and then engaged in a gunfight with NYPD officers.
Williams was recently released from police custody after being jailed on charges of heavy weapon possession and was due in court in the coming days.
Shea referred to the suspect as a ‘coward’ and said authorities were confident that he was involved in both the precinct shooting on Sunday and the patrol shooting the night before.
‘This is not a crime gone bad. This is not a liquor store robbery interrupted that a tragedy erupts from. This is a premeditated assassination attempt,’ Shea said.
‘It is only by the grace of God and the heroic actions of those inside the building that took him into custody that we are not talking about police officers murdered inside a New York City police precinct.’
The suspect’s grandmother, 80-year-old Mary Williams, spoke to NBC 4 New York after the attack on Sunday and said she was ‘really shocked’ by the allegations levied against him.
She said she spoke to her grandson, whom she raised in the Soundview section of the Bronx, a few hours before the first attack.
She said Williams had been looking for a job recently, adding that he ‘didn’t have no problem with no police lately’.
The grandmother also noted that Williams’ own son was shot and killed in the Bronx two years ago but declined to elaborate on his death.
Authorities said they were interviewing a woman who was ‘present in the general area’ and may have driven Williams to the precinct.
Police did not name the woman as she is not considered a suspect but sources identified her to DailyMail.com as Valdez, Williams’ girlfriend.
The woman’s mother spoke to ABC 7 on Sunday night and said she was not Williams’ girlfriend, but the pair were childhood friends.
The mother insisted that her daughter ‘has nothing to do with this’ and suggested that Williams tricked her into driving him to the precinct.
Sunday’s official press conference was held at Lincoln Hospital, where the officer injured in the shooting the night before was treated.
Stroffolino was released on Sunday morning and is expected to make a full recovery.
The 15-year veteran of the NYPD was showered with applause from fellow officers as he was carted out of the hospital and gave a thumbs-up to the crowd.
Shea said the Saturday night shooting ‘harkens back to some bad times’, referencing previous assassinations of police officers.
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 commissioner said Ramos and Liu’s deaths were ‘not something that engenders anything but the worst memories’.
He said that ‘everyone should be speaking against this’, adding: ‘I condemned it then and I condemn it right here today.’
In the wake of the killings of Ramos and Liu, some officers blamed de Blasio for expressing solidarity with the demonstrations, and turned their backs on the Democrat at the funerals.
De Blasio spoke after Shea at Sunday’s press conference and echoed his characterization of the shooting, calling it ‘an attempt to assassinate police officers’.
‘There’s just too much hatred out there right now,’ De Blasio said.
Robert Gangi, executive director of the Police Reform Organizing Project advocacy group, said it was ‘irresponsible’ for Shea and de Blasio to say the violence this weekend was linked to the recent demonstrations, which he said involved activists ‘protesting in a legitimate fashion.’
Of the gunman, though, Gangi said there is ‘no defense for a lunatic who opens fire on police.’
President Donald Trump hit out against de Blasio and New York Governor Andrew hours earlier, blaming them for this weekend’s attacks.
Trump tweeted: ‘I grew up in New York City and, over many years, got to watch how GREAT NYC’s “Finest” are. Now, because of weak leadership at Governor & Mayor, stand away (water thrown at them) regulations, and lack of support, our wonderful NYC police are under assault. Stop this now!’
Cuomo had tweeted to condemn the ‘heinous’ attacks on those who serve the city.
‘Horrified by the multiple attacks on officers in the Bronx,’ New York Governor Andrew Cuomo tweeted. ‘NY’s law enforcement officers put their lives on the line every day to keep us safe. These attacks are heinous. Those responsible will be brought to justice & held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.’
He shared in an official statement that state police would be on hand to help and said the perpetrator will be punished harshly.
‘I am horrified by the two attacks on NYPD officers that occurred last night and this morning in the Bronx,’ Cuomo stated. ‘Members of New York’s law enforcement community put their lives on the line every day to keep us safe, and they deserve our respect and appreciation. I have asked the New York State Police to reach out to the NYPD to offer any assistance necessary.
‘We have zero tolerance for attacks of any kind against law enforcement, and the person or people responsible will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.’
NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson tweeted: ‘We have another shooting of a police officer in the Bronx. Prayers for the officer in the latest shooting, who is at Lincoln Hospital w/non-life threatening injuries, the officer who was shot last night, and all those who serve our City. This horrific violence must end.’
The president of the Police Benevolent Association said the streets needed to be fixed.
‘It is a double miracle that we are not preparing for two funerals right now,’ Patrick Lynch, PBA president, said in a statement. ‘These targeted attacks are exactly what we have warned against again and again. The hatred and violence directed at cops continues to grow. Good luck and kind words are not enough to keep police officers or the public safe.
‘Our elected officials need to start listening to us and working with us — not against us — to fix the deteriorating environment on our streets.’
He added outside the hospital on Sunday: ‘Start backing our police officers. Our elected officials who stand and nod their heads with us, it’s time you open your mouth and say “This must stop.”‘