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NYPD: Cop shot in confrontation that left suspect dead out of hospital

Justin Vartanian, an NYPD officer from Suffolk County, was released Friday from Mount Sinai St. Luke's Hospital in Manhattan, after he was shot under his arm during a confrontation on Thursday in Washington Heights. (Credit: NYPD)

A wounded NYPD officer from Suffolk County left the hospital Friday to applause, salutes and a pipe-and-drum serenade. 

Joined by his family, Officer Justin Vartanian, 34, walked out of Mount Sinai St. Luke’s Hospital in Manhattan’s Morningside Heights neighborhood, wearing a Mets shirt and police jacket. Vartanian, who was shot in the right armpit, got into a waiting unmarked car. 

“We wish him a full and speedy recovery!” the NYPD tweeted. 

Vartanian, whose hometown was not disclosed, was shot — and another officer narrowly missed being hit — in a confrontation that left the suspect dead Thursday in Washington Heights, authorities said.

Vartanian, responding on foot to reports of gunfire, began chasing a male holding a weapon when the pursuit ended in a parking lot on Broadway, just north of West 187th Street about 4:30 p.m., police said. The suspect took cover behind a parked vehicle, and Vartanian was three vehicles away when they began exchanging gunfire, police said.
"The suspect then fired three rounds at the police officer, who was struck in the right armpit," NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill said in a news conference with Mayor Bill de Blasio at Mount Sinai. "The wounded officer fires back one time."

About the same time, another 34th Precinct officer drove up in an unmarked vehicle, and just after he got out, a bullet from the suspect's gun flew past him and pierced his vehicle's windshield, police said.

The second officer fired three shots, one of which hit the suspect in the chest, killing him, the NYPD said. The suspect was pronounced dead at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center.

Police said they have bodycam and parking lot video of the shooting, and at the hospital, the commissioner showed a photo of the unmarked Ford with the bullet hole. "The police officer was standing right next to it when it was fired," O'Neill said. "I saw the video. It just missed him."

A firearm was found, investigators said.

The New York City medical examiner identified the slain man as Omarfy Yeje, 42, killed by a gunshot wound to the chest, its spokeswoman Aja Worthy-Davis, said.

The NYPD also arrested a second suspect, identified Friday as Bladimir Garcia, 25, of the Bronx, on criminal charges of disorderly conduct, obstructing governmental administration and resisting arrest, a department spokesman said. Garcia allegedly ran into the shooting-scene investigation and refused to leave. 

O'Neill said the wounded officer's courage was "quite unbelievable."

"The subject has a gun in his hand, they run into the parking lot, and at close quarters, they exchange shots," the police commissioner said. "It’s pretty amazing to see … We run towards danger, but when you see this video, you’ll really understand what that phrase means."

De Blasio, who met with the two officers' families, praised the officers, saying they "did everything right."

"This was a fast, intense episode," de Blasio said. "Thank God it came out the way it did."

With Chau Lam and Erika Peters

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