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Contradicting stories emerge after shooting that sparked Amber Alert

Patchita Tennant arrives for her arraignment Saturday at

Patchita Tennant arrives for her arraignment Saturday at Southampton Town Court. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

The Riverhead woman accused of shooting a Flanders man in an incident that prompted an Amber Alert to be issued for their daughter was arraigned on charges of first-degree assault and first-degree criminal use of a firearm Saturday.

Bail was set at $250,000 cash or $250,000 bond for Patchita Tennant, 42, of Riverhead, and her attorney entered a not-guilty plea for her in Southampton Town Court.

Tennant shot Andrew Mitchell, 46, at his home in Flanders on Thursday night, police said, setting off the Amber Alert for their 3-year-old daughter. But the girl, Vanessa Tennant-Mitchell, was found safe Friday morning, police said, before Tennant turned herself in to authorities at Southampton Town Police headquarters Friday afternoon.

Police had said that despite their fears that the girl was in imminent danger when the alert was issued just after 7 a.m. Friday, she was at the home of a relative in Riverhead at that time. Southampton police had said the mother dropped the girl off Thursday night, but they were investigating whether that happened before or after the shooting.

On Saturday, both prosecutors and Tennant's defense attorney said the girl was not in the home at the time of the shooting.

Both sides offered contradicting accounts about the events that led to the shooting.

Suffolk County Assistant District Attorney Eric Aboulafia said Tennant suspected that Mitchell was having an affair with another woman. Aboulafia said Tennant allegedly drove to Mitchell's home to confront him, banging on the door and screaming, “I’m going to kill you! I’m going to kill myself!” Once inside, the two had an argument during which someone retrieved a .38-caliber revolver. 

Aboulafia said Tennant grabbed the gun and shot Mitchell three times, then fled. Mitchell  remained hospitalized Saturday.

With video footage obtained of Tennant entering a local CVS that same day buying clothing and a cellphone, Aboulafia said, the prosecution believed Tennant intended to go on the run.

However, Austin Manghan, a Riverhead attorney representing Tennant, said the shooting was in self-defense.

Tennant, one of four sisters, had picked up the couple’s daughter from a babysitter Thursday and had planned on spending the evening with her family to celebrate the return of one of her sisters from the U.S. Air Force, Manghan said.

At some point, Tennant drove to the Flanders home to pick up clothes for her daughter when she encountered Mitchell and an argument ensued, Manghan said.

During the argument, Manghan said, Mitchell allegedly grabbed Tennant and made his way to a safe in the home, where the gun was located. The two then struggled for the gun, a time during which, Manghan said, Tennant was “in fear for her life.”

Manghan said his client had “never even seen a gun” before the shooting, and that he could only imagine Tennant thinking in that moment that “she’ll do anything to live another day and be with her daughter.”

After the gun was fired, Manghan said, Tennant fled from the scene in fear, and a wounded Mitchell allegedly grabbed the gun and fired several rounds, which missed, at Tennant as she ran.

“She was fighting for her life. Literally,” Manghan said.

Manghan added that there had been a previous pattern of alleged abuse by Mitchell toward Tennant, and that the Thursday incident was “part of that pattern of abuse.” 

Judge Barbara L. Wilson issued an order of protection against Tennant that prohibits her from going near either Mitchell or their daughter. She is expected back in court Thursday.

Tennant had family members — including her sisters — and friends present at the hearing, but they declined to comment on the incident. However, Manghan said after the hearing that Tennant, a manager for 15 years at a CVS in East Hampton, was a respected member of the community and her family’s presence in court showed that.

“Everyone conjures up these ideas that this is a maniac on the loose … and that’s simply not the case,” Manghan said.

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