The two suspects charged with murder in the death of NYPD Det. Brian Simonsen during an attempted robbery of a cellphone store in Queens last month were on a crime spree, holding up four other stores since late October, prosecutors said Monday.
Christopher Ransom and Jagger Freeman were arraigned in Queens Supreme Court in Kew Gardens on Monday for their alleged roles in the Feb. 12 friendly-fire death of Simonsen, 42, a veteran police officer from Calverton. Simonsen's boss, Sgt. Matthew Gorman, 31, of Seaford, was shot in the leg, but survived.
Ransom, 27, of St. John's Place in Brooklyn, and Freeman, 25, of Jamaica, Queens, were charged in a 23-count indictment. Both men are charged with second-degree murder, first- and second-degree robbery, second-degree assault, third- and fourth-degree grand larceny and fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon. Ransom is also charged with second-degree aggravated manslaughter. If convicted, both men face up to 50 years to life in prison.
"This was a tragic incident that should have never happened," Chief Assistant District Attorney John Ryan said in a statement. "The two defendants were allegedly on a robbery spree — hitting cellphone stores — but this time the heist went awry and two veteran police officers were shot.
"One defendant allegedly served as a lookout and the other is accused of holding up the store workers with a fake handgun. The police, doing what they do every day without hesitation, responded to the scene. One of the defendants allegedly ran at and pointed his fake gun at the police and the responding officers fired," Ryan said in the statement.
Queens Supreme Court Justice Kenneth Holder ordered both men held without bail. Ransom, who was shot eight times during the incident and is still hospitalized, was arraigned by video link, while Freeman appeared in in a courtroom packed with police officers.
Both pleaded not guilty.
In a statement, the Legal Aid Society, which is representing Ransom, said prosecutors were pushing a "disingenuous" narrative about him.
“Make no mistake, we agree that the loss of Detective Brian Simonsen and the wounding of Sergeant Matthew Gorman are indeed tragic," Legal Aid said. "But there are still many unanswered questions surrounding the events of that night.
"The prosecution has a duty to meet a burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and Mr. Ransom is entitled to due process and a fair trial, as guaranteed by law. We ask the public to thoughtfully consider the many contours of this case, and not to react to sensationalism peddled by prosecutors or the police.”
Ransom's lawyer said previously that his actions during the failed robbery were an attempt at suicide by cop.
Ronald Nir, a Kew Gardens defense attorney representing Freeman, did not respond to a request for comment.
Simonsen's NYPD colleagues crowded into the courthouse Monday for the arraignment. Michael Palladino, president of the NYPD's Detective Endowment Association, called the suspects "career criminals" who should never have been free to commit the robbery.
"With criminal records that are a mile long like these two individuals, what were they doing out on the street?" Palladino said. "They should have been incarcerated. It's sad to think that if even just one of them was where they belong — behind bars — then there's a good chance this incident never would have happened and our detective would be alive today."
Prosecutors on Monday revealed for the first time that Ransom and Freeman are alleged to have committed previous similar robberies.
Both were charged with robbing a T-Mobile store on Feb. 8 in St. Albans, Queens. Ransom was also separately indicted in the robbery of three other cellphone stores, all on Rockaway Boulevard in Queens, on Oct. 23, Oct. 28 last year and Jan. 19, 2019.
But it was in the Feb. 12 attempted robbery of a cellphone store on 120th Street in Richmond Hill where tragedy struck.
Shortly after 6 p.m., Freeman looked through the store's windows and called Ransom, prosecutors said. Moments later, Ransom, wearing a dark hoodie over his head and a mask covering part of his face, entered the store, holding a fake black pistol, prosecutors said.
Ransom ordered two store employees to remove cash from the registers and iPhones and cash from the backroom safes, prosecutors said. The employees took cash from the first safe and as they were emptying the second of iPhones, Ransom left and headed to the main part of the store, according to charging documents.
Simonsen and Gorman, in plain clothes working a few blocks away on an unrelated robbery pattern, heard a call over the police radio reporting a commercial armed robbery and responded to the scene along with other uniformed officers, according to NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill.
Ransom began to exit through the front door, pointing his fake gun at officers outside, who backtracked to take cover, court papers say. Within 11 seconds, police have said, police fired 42 rounds and Ransom, Simonsen and Gorman were shot.
Simonsen, a 19-year-veteran of the force who grew up in South Jamesport, was fatally shot in the torso, while Gorman was seriously wounded, shot in the leg.
Freeman, who ran from the scene the moment gunfire erupted, was arrested Feb. 17.
Ransom and Freeman are due back in court May 15.