Two weeks from retirement, MTA Police Lt. Francis Zaino tapped into his 39 years of experience Saturday when a man with a gun jumped on the tracks at the LIRR Jamaica station and helped bring a potential “suicide by cop” situation to a peaceful end.
“I think our officers just exemplified tremendous weapon retention,” said Zaino, 64, who is set to retire at the end of the month with 39 years and eight months of service to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, his career beginning as a Long Island Rail Road officer.
He spoke Sunday about how he and several officers responded to the 2 p.m. incident when a distraught 19-year-old man who "wanted to get shot" jumped onto the tracks and pointed a 40-caliber semiautomatic gun into his mouth and under his chin, seemingly hoping officers would take him out.
“The game here was to take your time, maintain safe distance and cover,” Zaino said during an interview. “And we did that. . . We isolated and contained him as best as possible. We took our time.”
The suspect, a Jamaica man, was charged with criminal possession of a weapon, menacing, criminal trespass with a weapon, and first-degree reckless endangerment, officials said. No one was harmed during the incident.
Officers shut down the electric current on the tracks in the station and interrupted traffic to and from the busy hub for an hour or so as Zaino and other officers, including MTA Police Sgt. Michael Arcati, calmed the suspect down, providing a bag of chips and a bottle of water to him when he said he was hungry, and phoning his father, who came to the station when he found out about his son's troubles.
MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said service was suspended on most lines at 2:20 p.m. but back in operation by 3 p.m., with residual delays.
Arcati, 42, a 19-year veteran, said the suspect had an argument with his father earlier in the day, a disagreement that may have led the younger man to harbor suicidal thoughts.
He said that he and Zaino were on either side of the suspect — and between six and eight feet away from him — as he waved the gun around.
The officers “kept him talking” Zaino said, adding that he and Arcati stood on the platforms flanking the tracks where the suspect was standing until the magazine in his gun dropped out.
Arcati said his training overrode any fears he had of being shot.
"I’m just glad everyone got out of this safe and alive," he said. "There was a lot of patience, a lot of care. It had a happy ending. . . . Nobody got hurt or shot. This could have had a very bad ending."
“About 40 minutes into it, he did drop the gun because the magazine came out of it,” Zaino said. “He dropped it and he was told to get on his knees, and he complied. . . We picked him up out of the tracks onto the platform and I told him he did good.”
Though none of the officers knew it at the time, the gun was not loaded. Zaino said the suspect started the ordeal with another outcome in mind.
“He looked at me,” Zaino said. “He was focused on my white shirt. . . He said, ‘How many cops you got here?’ He wanted to get shot.”