An unarmed Amityville man was shot and killed by a Suffolk police officer in a Bay Shore neighborhood after she battled him for control of a vehicle -- containing two children -- that he had tried to carjack, authorities said Monday.
Denzel I. Brown, 21, died during surgery at Southside Hospital in Bay Shore after the officer, 34, shot him in the abdomen Sunday night as they fought inside the slow-moving vehicle, which had dragged the nine-year veteran repeatedly along the ground, officials said.
The investigation into the shooting "is active and ongoing," said Suffolk Chief of Department James Burke at a news conference Monday at police headquarters in Yaphank.
"The preliminary investigation has indicated this shooting is justified," Burke said.
Investigators have video surveillance from an adjacent home that shows part of the encounter between the officer and Brown, Burke said, adding that it backs the officer's story. He said the surveillance would not be released publicly because it is considered evidence.
Brown's family could not be reached.
The officer, assigned to the Third Precinct, was not hurt but was treated at a hospital for "trauma" and released, Burke said. The children were also uninjured.
"It's everyone's worst nightmare," Burke said. "Someone's going to drive away with your kids."
Suffolk Police Commissioner Edward Webber called the officer's actions heroic.
"At great personal risk, the officer confronted the suspect in a running vehicle and effectively stopped the threat to the children and to the public," Webber said.
The harrowing battle between the officer and Brown, with children in the backseat, started minutes earlier as a routine 911 call reporting a theft at a Best Buy store at 1851 W. Sunrise Hwy. The officer, whom the department declined to name, responded about 7:45 p.m. to a report that Brown stole two pairs of headphones, Burke said.
She arrived and a witness directed her to Brown -- hiding between storage containers outside a nearby Toys R Us store, Burke said.
Chase in neighborhood
He ran. She chased him. Brown tried to steal an unoccupied car in the parking lot, and the officer used her Taser on him, Burke said. "Unfortunately only one prong struck him, rendering the Taser ineffective," he said.
Brown ran across Brentwood Road, Burke said. He tried to carjack a sedan traveling west on Nevada Avenue.
"He was not able to enter that vehicle, but instead was knocked to the ground as the sedan fled," Burke said.
Brown ran to the front passenger side of an idling vehicle in the driveway of a home, police said. A man -- the uncle of the two boys, 4 and 6 -- had exited the vehicle and gone inside the house, police said. His girlfriend was in the driver's seat. Police did not identify the adults or the children.
Brown jumped in the backseat where the children were, Burke said. The woman "screamed for him to get out of the car," Burke said, but Brown climbed into the front seat and she jumped out.
The officer approached the driver's side and "repeatedly ordered" Brown to get out, Burke said.
"Despite multiple commands, on the part of the officer, the perpetrator put the car in reverse," Burke said. "Fearing that he was about to kidnap the children, the officer fired one shot from her .40-caliber Glock service weapon at close range through the driver's window in an attempt to prevent and terminate that kidnapping," Burke said. Police do not believe that bullet struck Brown, Burke said.
The officer opened the driver's side door and "tried to put the car in park and remove the keys from the ignition," Burke said. Brown "put the car in reverse and dragged the officer along the ground," Burke said.
The officer and Brown fought, police said, and the officer put the car in park and turned it off, but couldn't remove the key. Brown restarted the car, put it in reverse, and dragged the officer, Burke said. She used her Taser to "drive-stun" Brown, by applying the shock directly onto his neck.
"At this point, the officer was in fear of her own life and realized the continued threat to the children," so she fired her service weapon a second time, striking Brown in the abdomen at point-blank range, Burke said.
Officer did 'exemplary job'
Asked about the officer's decision to fire her service weapon with the two boys inside the car, Burke said the children were sitting low in the backseat and the officer had the "wherewithal" to fire the first shot into the window of the front seat and she fired the second shot at Brown at point-blank range.
"She was thinking about those kids when she exercised those weapons," Burke said. "In this case, this officer has just done an outstanding and exemplary job. In my 30 years of being a police officer . . . this really ranks up there as one of the most heroic actions that I've seen taken on the part of a police officer."
She has received four department recognitions and was named "cop of the month" in her precinct several years ago, officials said. She was not placed on any modified duty and will likely return to work on active duty after a few previously scheduled days off, police said. She will undergo a mandatory medical evaluation before returning to work, said Chief Kevin Fallon, a department spokesman.
Burke said the department planned to release the officer's name at a later date, but declined to Monday because Brown may have had "connections to gangs."
He did not elaborate.
Brown was arrested three times since 2014 for possession of heroin, possession of crack cocaine with intent to sell, and second-degree robbery, but the charges were pending, said district attorney spokesman Robert Clifford.
An employee reached at the Best Buy store Monday said the employee who reported the alleged theft was back at work but was crying and not available to comment.
With Chau Lam
and Gary Dymski