Two off-duty police officers wearing plain clothes turned the tables on their knife- and bat-wielding attackers in separate cases in Nassau and Suffolk early Tuesday; one of the would-be robbers was shot dead, while the other suspect was wounded, officials said.
In cases just 90 minutes apart, the officers fired at point-blank range at the suspects, who had tried to ambush them in their cars, police in both counties said.
"It is a night when they picked on the wrong victims," said Nassau Police Det. Lt. Mike Fleming, commander of the Fifth Squad detectives, adding: "Now, at least these thugs won't be out there, preying on innocent victims."
"There is no doubt," he said. "this is a rare occurrence."
Death at car wash
The later shooting, which happened at 3 a.m. at Bubble Brush Car Wash at 6 Lincoln Ave. in Deer Park, occurred when two men with a bat assaulted a Nassau County police detective when he was vacuuming his car. The detective identified himself as an officer and fired at both suspects, killing one while the other fled, Suffolk police said.
"An off-duty Nassau County Police Department detective was utilizing a 24-hour car wash when two individuals intent on robbing him sneaked up behind him and began to beat him with an aluminum baseball bat," said Suffolk Det. Lt. Jack Fitzpatrick, commander of the homicide squad.
Fitzpatrick said the second suspect was captured by a canine officer several blocks away.
He was identified by police as Amille Moore, 16, of 1597 North Thompson Dr., Bay Shore. He was charged with first-degree attempted robbery and was being held at the First Precinct until arraignment this morning at First District Court in Central Islip.
The detective, 42, has been with the Nassau police department for 16 years, a law enforcement source told Newsday.
Police have declined to identify the officer, citing policy that calls for withholding the names of victims of crimes. The officer wouldn't comment.
A police spokesman said the only other time this officer had discharged his weapon was in 2007, when he shot a pit bull.
Fitzpatrick said the detective received multiple injuries and was treated at a hospital for contusions and internal bleeding.
Struggle before shooting
Earlier in the morning, a 28-year-old New York City police officer was set upon at about 1:25 a.m. by two men who attacked him as he was sitting inside his vehicle, wearing a seat belt, near Locustwood Boulevard in Elmont, Nassau police said.
Detectives said the officer was sitting in a late-model sport utility vehicle waiting for a friend when he spotted two males sneaking up from behind his vehicle.
One, later identified as Willie Watkins, 18, of Jamaica, opened the driver's side door, Fleming said, and stuck a knife to the officer's throat - threatening to stab him in the neck.
"The officer struggled with the attacker," Fleming said, "but [the officer] had difficulty gaining any leverage on him, because he was still seat-belted in."
Fleming said the officer, who is assigned to a precinct in Brooklyn, "had no place to escape to," so he drew his service firearm - a .9-mm semi-automatic - and fired one shot, striking Watkins in the shoulder at close range.
"The attacker fell back," Fleming said. "He got up and both of the suspects ran," with Watkins reaching a vehicle that sped off.
Watkins was arrested by Nassau police at an unnamed hospital after authorities linked his wound and the shooting, police said.
Watkins has prior convictions in New York City, police said, declining to elaborate. Watkins' relatives could not be reached.
He has been charged with first-degree attempted robbery and will be arraigned in First District Court in Hempstead following his release from the hospital. Police are still searching for the other suspect and those who helped Watkins, they said.
Fleming said it was also fortunate that neither officer was injured seriously and that both cases, though rare, may serve as a cautionary tale.
"[This] should serve as a warning to the general public how dangerous it could be if they are out there alone at night and should remind them to keep their doors locked and remain aware of their surroundings," Fleming said.
With Zachary R. Dowdy, John Valenti and Joseph Mallia