New York cop killings inflame tensions

Tom Hays
Associated Press

A makeshift memorial in the Brooklyn borough of New York includes photos of slain New York officers Wenjian Liu, left, and Rafael Ramos.

New York — The gunman who fatally ambushed two police officers in their squad car had a long criminal record, a hatred for police and the government and an apparent history of mental instability that included an attempt to hang himself a year ago, authorities said Sunday.

Moments before opening fire, Ismaaiyl Brinsley approached people on the street and asked them to follow him on Instagram, then told them, "Watch what I'm going to do," Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said.

A portrait of the Brooklyn-born gunman emerged as big-city police departments and union leaders around the country warned officers to change up their routines and insist on extra backup a day after Brinsley carried out what he portrayed online as retaliation for the slayings of black men at the hands of white police.

Brinsley was black; the slain officers were Asian and Hispanic.

Investigators were trying to determine if Brinsley had taken part in any protests over the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, whose names he invoked in his online threat, or simply latched on to the cause for the final act in a violent rampage.

The slayings came a day before Florida authorities said a police officer was shot and killed in the Tampa Bay area early Sunday. The Tarpon Springs Police Department identified the fallen officer as 45-year-old Charles Kondek, a 17-year veteran of the local police department.


Authorities say Kondek responded to a call for service shortly after 2 a.m. Police said the suspect shot at the officer and then fled the scene in a vehicle and crashed. He was then apprehended by police at that location.

The killings stoked tensions that have simmered for months over police killings of blacks.

The siege mentality was evident in several memos circulating among the rank and file at the 35,000-officer New York Police Department, the nation's largest.

A union-generated message warned police officers that they should respond to every radio call with two cars — "no matter what the opinion of the patrol supervisor" — and not make arrests "unless absolutely necessary." The president of the detectives union told members in a letter to work in threes when out on the street, wear bulletproof vests and keep aware of their surroundings.

"Cowards such as yesterday's killer strike when you are distracted and vulnerable," the letter read.

Another directive warned officers in Newark, New Jersey, not to patrol alone and to avoid people looking for confrontations. At the same time, a memo from an NYPD chief asked officers to avoid fanning rage by limiting comments to expressions of sorrow and condolence.

Police nationwide are being criticized for months for their tactics, following Garner's death in a New York officer's chokehold and Brown's fatal shooting in Ferguson, Missouri.

New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton and Mayor Bill de Blasio attended Sunday Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral, where Cardinal Timothy Dolan called for calm.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams visited a makeshift memorial at the site of the slayings, calling on protest organizers to "hold off on any type of protest until these officers are laid to rest in a peaceful manner."

At an appearance with the Rev. Al Sharpton, Garner's mother expressed her dismay over the killings of the officers.

"I'm standing here in sorrow about losing those two police officers. That was definitely not our agenda," Gwen Garner said.

"We are going in peace, and anyone who's standing with us, we want you to not use Eric Garner's name for violence because we are not about that," she added.

Rev. Al Sharpton (C), accompanied by Esaw Garner (L), Eric Garner's widow, Michael Hardy (second from left), the general counsel for National Action Network, Cynthia Davis (second from right), the National Action Network Staten Island branch president, and Gwen Carr (far right), Eric Garner's mother, during a press conference denouncing the shooting deaths of two New York Police Department (NYPD) officers at the National Action Network on December 21, 2014 in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City.

Brinsley, 28, had at least 19 arrests in Georgia and Ohio, spent two years in prison for gun possession and had a childhood so violent that his mother was afraid of him, police said. He ranted online about police and the government and expressed "self-despair and anger at himself and where his life was," Boyce said.

On Saturday afternoon, Brinsley approached a squad car from behind in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant section and fired four shots, killing Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu. He then ran into a subway station and committed suicide.

Hours earlier, Brinsley had shot and wounded his ex-girlfriend at her home outside Baltimore, then made threatening posts online, including a vow to put "wings on pigs" and references to the Brown and Garner cases.

Timeline of shooting

5:48 a.m. — Baltimore County Police are dispatched to Ismaaiyl Brinsley's ex-girlfriend's home in the Baltimore suburb of Owings Mills, Maryland. Brinsley had shot the 29-year-old woman in the stomach and fled. She's expected to survive.

1:30 p.m. — Police in Baltimore discover Brinsley is making posts from the woman's Instagram account that threaten to kill New York officers. They determine the posts are being made from Brooklyn, New York.

2:10 p.m. — Police in Baltimore call the 70th precinct in New York, advising NYPD that the phone of a suspect in the Owings Mills shooting is pinging in their Brooklyn precinct. The two police departments discuss the Instagram posts during the call, and a "wanted" poster of Brinsley is faxed to NYPD with information about the subject.

2:47 p.m. — Brinsley approaches the passenger window of a marked police car in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn and opens fire, striking Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu in the head, killing them. He takes off running as officers pursue him down to a nearby subway station, where he shoots himself in the head.

2:50 p.m. — The Baltimore Police Department sends a teletype with the same information contained on the "wanted" poster to the NYPD's real-crime center at police headquarters.

Information from Baltimore County Maryland Police and the New York Police Department.