An NYPD officer from Long Island, whose partner escaped injury when his gunbelt deflected a bullet fired during a shootout, said Monday, "Someone was watching over us."
Officer Thomas Richards, 36, of Great Neck, narrowly escaped grievous injury or death when one of the 19 bullets fired during a running gun battle with a suspect bounced off a spare ammunition magazine on his gunbelt, bending the metal.
"An inch either way and it would have been right in his stomach," said Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who called Richards' narrow escape during the Lower East Side firefight early Monday "another miracle," referring to recent cases when other cops survived being shot.
"We are very lucky. The odds of that [bullet] hitting right there where it did was slim to none," said Richards' partner, Officer Thomas Dunne, who wasn't hit in the exchange.
"I'm lucky enough to come home to my family," said Dunne, 30, carrying his 5-month-old son Jaxson in a car seat under one arm as he arrived back at his Mount Sinai home Monday, hours after the early morning shooting. "I'm happy it worked out. We could have been laying down in a hospital."
Dunne and Richards were fired upon when they exited their police van and approached a suspect in front of 47 Columbia St., near the Baruch Houses public-housing complex, according to investigators. The suspect, Luis Martinez, 25, said something unintelligible and then fired as he turned toward Richards, police said.
Dunne and Richards first zeroed in on Martinez after they spotted him turn away from them while they were talking to another man at around 1:44 a.m., police spokesman Paul Browne said. The officers followed Martinez a short distance. As they left their police van to talk with him, the shooting erupted, Browne said.
Martinez fired three shots, one of which glanced off Richards' gunbelt, Browne said. Richards returned fire five times, striking Martinez in the upper right leg, investigators said. Dunne, who was in the first shooting of his seven-year NYPD career, fired 11 times.
Richards, a police officer since 2000, and Dunne continued to chase Martinez, who at one point turned and attempted to shoot again at the officers, only to have his 9-mm Taurus handgun jam, Browne said.
Martinez ran into 64 Baruch Dr., and tried unsuccessfully to fire once more with the jammed gun, Browne said. Inside the building, police retrieved Martinez's pistol from a trash compactor, Browne said. Police said it had been bought in Newport News, Va., in 2010 by woman with no known address. A German shepherd police dog named Caesar called to the scene followed a blood trail to Martinez's apartment.
When Martinez entered the apartment, he had told his wife he had shot a cop, a law enforcement source said. The source said the wife told police Martinez threw himself on a bed and said: "I just want to die."
The source said police recovered a scale and four bags of marijuana that Martinez allegedly had thrown out the window of the apartment.
Martinez was in stable condition at Bellevue Hospital Center Monday night and was expected to be charged with attempted murder of a cop, according to police.
The shooting was the fourth involving an NYPD officer in a little more than two months.
Officer Peter J. Figoski, 47, of West Babylon, was shot and killed by a fleeing suspect at the scene of a Brooklyn robbery Dec. 12. Since then, two other officers -- Kevin Herlihy, 47, of Lynbrook, and Kevin Brennan, 29, of Garden City Park -- were also shot by suspects, but survived. Brennan was shot in the base of the skull; Herlihy was hit in his arm. "It just goes to show you. We deal with a lot of crazy things every night," said Dunne of the recent shootings. "A lot of times people harp on the wrong things. . . . This one went the right way for the good guys."
With John Valenti,
William Murphy, Tania Lopez, Victor Ramos, Chau Lam and Igor Kossov