Suffolk police officer on ventilator after 'justified' shooting, commissioner says
Suffolk County Police Commissioner Rodney Harrison said Thursday that the fatal police shooting of a Medford man who stabbed two officers was “justified,” as the state attorney general said she was looking at the circumstances of Wednesday’s deadly encounter.
“With my 30 years of law-enforcement experience, to me, this is a justified shooting,” Harrison said Thursday, adding: “You have an individual who lunges at police officers, within a close proximity. He actually committed the act of stabbing the officers. It doesn’t seem like the officers had any other action but to use their weapons, to stop the force, to stop anybody else from being stabbed. ”
Thursday night, police identified the slain man as Enrique Lopez, 56, of Birchwood Road, Medford.
Harrison, speaking Thursday outside Stony Brook University Hospital, gave more details about the police encounter with a Lopez, who lived in a home operated by a nonprofit for people with disabilities and mental health issues. He also provided more information about the extent of the officers’ injuries, which were more serious than initially said.
WHAT TO KNOW
- Suffolk Police Commissioner Rodney Harrison said the shooting that killed a man who stabbed two Suffolk officers in Medford Wednesday was “justified.”
- One of the officers is on a ventilator with a stab wound to his clavicle; the other could be released as soon as Friday.
- Attorney General Letitia James is looking at whether she should launch an investigation into the shooting.
Dr. James Vosswinkel, the head of trauma at the hospital as well as the Suffolk Police Department’s chief consulting surgeon and medical director, said the officer stabbed in the clavicle and groin will remain on a ventilator and won’t be released immediately.
“One of them almost lost his life,” Vosswinkel said of the officer, who is married and expecting his first child. “The officer with the really life-threatening injuries was stabbed in his neck, with about an inch and a half wound that went about four inches down to his upper chest.”
Vosswinkel said the knife lacerated one of the important blood vessels to the officer’s heart. “If it wasn’t for the treatment at the scene by his fellow officers, his sergeant, as well as our volunteer medical staff, our EMTs, he would not have lived.”
The other officer was stabbed through his bulletproof vest perilously close to he heart, Vosswinkel said. That officer could be released Friday.
Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for New York Attorney General Letitia James said her office is conducting a preliminary assessment of the incident, under a state law that calls for her Office of Special Investigation to look into any incident where a law-enforcement officer may have caused the death of a person by act or omission. If OSI determines that an officer caused the death, it will conduct a full investigation.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said in a statement Thursday: "Last night I was on the receiving end of a call no County Executive ever wants to get, two dedicated officers of the SCPD were attacked and seriously wounded in the line of duty. Thanks to the incredible care they are receiving at Stony Brook University Hospital, and the support of this department, we are hopeful both officers will make a full recovery. "
Harrison said three Sixth Precinct officers responded to a 911 call at about 5 p.m. Wednesday to an apartment in the Blue Ridge Condominium Complex on Birchwood Road in Medford, where a man was reportedly menacing others with a fire extinguisher.
Harrison has not released the names of the officers who were stabbed and involved in the shooting. Harrison also did not identify which officer was the shooter.
Harrison said the investigation, which he called “still preliminary,” is looking into reports that neighbors had made numerous calls to the Homeowners Association and police about the suspect, who had allegedly displayed erratic behavior in the past.
Police investigators will also attempt to determine if the suspect was behind vandalism, including slashed tires, in the area, Harrison said.
The home where the slain man lived is operated by a nonprofit agency called Concern Housing, which provides services to people with disabilities and mental health issues. The officers were approached by a case worker who supervised mentally ill patients at the home, said the man had been "acting violent, irrational and threatening other residential patients with a fire extinguisher,” Harrison said.
The officers entered the home, walked up a flight of stairs and approached the suspect, Harrison said, and "asked him how he was feeling.”
“At such time, the same suspect pulled out a Rambo knife and lunged at the other officers. The officers repeatedly asked him to drop the knife as they attempted to retreat to cover. When our subject lunged at the officers, he stabbed one of the officers in the clavicle.”
One of the officers fired four rounds at the suspect, Harrison said, striking him in his upper torso. The suspect was pronounced dead at the scene at 5:15 p.m., the commissioner said.
The man was arrested in 2011 for assaulting a Suffolk County police officer, Harrison said. He served two years in prison and was on parole for two years. Harrison also said the man had past interactions with police that were not specified.
Elizabeth Lunde, the chief operating officer at the Medford-based Concern Housing, said in a statement Thursday: "Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Suffolk County Police Officers" and their families … This is an unprecedented event in the full array of housing types that Concern operates. We are conducting a thorough investigation and are cooperating with police and other officials. "
While police initially said Wednesday night that the stabbed officers had received nonlife threatening injuries, Harrison revealed Thursday that the injuries were more serious.
The first officer who was stabbed in the collarbone, was also stabbed in the left groin, and is in serious but stable condition and on a ventilator, the commissioner said. The officer has been with the department for four years and is a U.S. Army veteran who served in Afghanistan.
“When he arrived at the hospital, he was in critical condition, but due to the great work here at Stony Brook, he’s now sedated on a ventilator and is in serious but stable condition,” Harrison said.
The damage was so severe that Vosswinkel called in heart specialists to assist with the surgery. The officer was placed on cardiopulmonary bypass in order to repair the vessel. The officer suffered other damage to his nerves and muscle.
“Fortunately the officer is still with us. But the knife, however, as you can imagine, still did significant damage to the area. We are happy to say he is stable. He is in serious condition on life support,” Vosswinkel said.
The second officer, who has been on the job for 11 months and is also an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan, was stabbed the chest. The knife pierced the cop’s bulletproof vest and hit a rib, very close to his heart and lung. He was also stabbed in his left bicep and left thumb. Vosswinkel said he may be released Friday.
Vossinkel said the second officer, who was stabbed through his vest, was “extremely lucky.”
“Being stabbed right over your heart, that goes through a vest, and it hit a rib, and it didn’t go further, that really saved that officer’s life.”
A third officer, a one-year veteran, was treated for ringing in the ears at the hospital, Harrison said. He was released from the hospital Wednesday night.
Harrison thanked the officers and other first responders who treated the injured cops at the scene and the Stony Brook staff. He singled out one cop in particular.
“I also want to thank this officer to the left of me, Sgt. David Zirkel, who had a humongous role in getting the officers the medical treatment at the scene,” said Harrison. “He was able to use his lifesaving techniques through his EMT training and stop both officers from potentially bleeding out. He was instrumental in stabilizing and securing the injuries until they were transported to the hospital.”
“Ladies and gentleman, this is a very dangerous job,” Harrison said. “Officers never know what they are going to face when they get that 911 call. By the grace of God, these officers are going home to their loved ones.”
With Nicole Fuller