Retired NYPD Det. Sgt. Kenneth Krug was in a “life-and-death struggle” as the heroic security guard wrestled the gun away from the armed robber who shot a mall worker during a botched heist at a luxury watch store in Roosevelt Field mall, Nassau County officials said Wednesday.
Krug, a highly decorated 21-year NYPD veteran who lives in North Baldwin, was working security at the Tourneau watch store, grabbed the slide of the robber’s gun, causing it to jam and preventing anyone else from being shot, officials said.
“Kenneth Krug’s actions can only be described as heroic,” acting Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter said in a news conference Wednesday at police headquarters in Mineola. “He was engaged in a life-and-death struggle and his actions resulted in the defendant only being able to discharge one round. . . . It’s really inspiring to see what he did.”
Krumpter and Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano repeatedly praised Krug’s bravery, saying his actions during the 90-second, “violent” struggle with the gunman likely saved the lives of shoppers in the busy mall just days before Christmas.
Suspected gunman arraigned
The suspected gunman, identified Wednesday by police as Oliver Lee, 21, of Little Neck, Queens, was arraigned in First District Court in Hempstead on first-degree robbery, weapons possession and multiple assault charges. Judge Frank A. Doddato set bail at $750,000. He was represented by a Legal Aid Society attorney. Lee’s family could not be reached for comment.
A picture of the .380-caliber semi-automatic handgun believed to have been used in the shooting was posted on Lee’s Facebook page Sunday — two days before the mall shooting. The unlicensed gun was purchased 11 years ago in the South, officials said.
Lee, who is unemployed, had 10 oxycodone pills in his possession at the time of his arrest, officials said. Lee has no prior convictions but records show he was arrested in Queens and charged with marijuana possession in March.
Krumpter declined to discuss whether police believe Lee had an accomplice, saying only the investigation is ongoing but adding police recovered a “significant amount of video” from the scene.
The injured mall worker, identified as a 67-year-old man, was shot in the shoulder by the only bullet fired, and was “doing much better” and was likely to be released from the hospital, Mangano said.
Guard credits police training
Krug, who was spotted shopping at the mall Wednesday afternoon and chatting with his co-workers at Tourneau, where he’s worked about a year, declined to comment, saying he had to testify before a grand jury.
But later at his home, Krug, who was awarded six “exceptional police service awards” during his time as a cop from 1981 to 2002, attributed his actions to his NYPD training.
Krug, who Krumpter said had bruises on his head and hand as a result of the struggle, said he had visited the shooting victim in the hospital and planned to go back to work in a few days. But first, he wanted to enjoy Christmas with his family.
Lee entered the Tourneau store about 12:50 p.m. and asked to see a $18,750 Rolex watch, Krumpter said. When he was taken by a salesperson into a showing area to see the watch, Lee displayed a handgun and demanded the watch.
Krug, who was armed but never drew his weapon, was watching the interaction and immediately intervened, resulting in a “life-and-death struggle,” Krumpter said.
Krug pounced on Lee in the rear of the store and the 90-second struggle between the two men continued onto the mall concourse and ended in UNO de 50, an adjacent jewelry store.
It was then that two unarmed mall security guards — Marcello Espinoza and Leroy Bobbit — joined in, Krumpter said. The actions of the unarmed guards were “extremely brave,” Krumpter said.
Lee was taken into police custody about 1:09 p.m., Krumpter said.
Espinoza suffered a broken hand in the struggle and Bobbit had bruises, Krumpter said. Neither could be reached for comment Wednesday.
“Without their assistance, it’s unknown what would have happened,” Krumpter said.
‘I was so scared’
Ava Cazabonet, a saleswoman at UNO de 50, said she heard the gunfire and fled to a back room with her co-worker and locked the door, but didn’t have enough time to pull down the store’s security gate.
Watching on the store’s security camera, she said she saw he gunman slam into a glass jewelry case inside her store before finally being subdued by the guards.
The gun went flying across the floor in one direction and the stolen watch in another, she said in an interview at the store Wednesday.
“I was so scared he would try to come back here,” said Cazabonet, a Stony Brook student who lives in Queens Village. Cazabonet, still shaken-up while recounting the scene, said she wanted to be back at work. “Gotta make that money,” she quipped.
The stolen watch was recovered in UNO de 50, Krumpter said.
In the chaotic aftermath of the shooting, as thousands of frantic mall shoppers scrambled to flee, five to six patrons sustained minor injuries — described as bruises though at least one person needed stitches, Krumpter said.
They either were treated and released by on-scene police ambulance medical technicians or refused treatment, Krumpter said.
While many shoppers ran, some hunkered down in stores, with quick-thinking employees pulling down security gates to prevent Lee — initially thought to be a mass shooter — from gaining access. Krumpter called the mall’s response “great.”
The county’s 911 call center received 419 calls reporting the shooting, Krumpter said, crediting the operators for “great work” in “maintaining order in this chaotic time.”
Krumpter also praised the “significant response” in a “timely fashion” by police personnel to the scene, including Chief of Detectives Kevin Smith, who had been eating lunch at a mall restaurant, and an unnamed rookie Nassau officer with 10-months on the job who had been shopping while off-duty.
NYPD Insp. Kenneth Lehr, commander of the fugitive enforcement division, said previously that he also was at the mall during the shooting and helped handcuff Lee after he was already subdued by Krug, Bobbit and Espoinoza. Without those three men jumping into action, Mangano said, “God knows what could have occurred.”
With Sarah Armaghan and Anthony M. DeStefano