The police had gone looking for Tyrone Howard at least 10 times since Sept. 1,
when, investigators believe, he rode up to a 28 year old drug rival just after
midnight and shot him. But 10 times Mr. Howard eluded them.When officers finally did encounter Mr. Howard on Tuesday night, fleeing
from the scene of another shooting in the same Upper Manhattan housing
project, he was armed, the police said.
He was riding a stolen bike and concealing a .40caliber handgun, the
police said. As two plainclothes officers approached, he wheeled around,
dropped the bike and fired one shot into the forehead of one of the officers,
Randolph Holder, the police said.
“It was quick,” a senior police official said. “He swung around, on the bike
path; he was on the bike and he just jumped off and ‘Boom.’ Quick. No words.”
Officer Holder’s partner, Omar Wallace, fired back, striking the assailant
as he fled north along Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive. He was arrested near 125th
Street beside the churn of the darkened East River where, soon after, police
divers recovered a .40caliber magazine that had been tossed into thewaterway
The fatal shooting, the fourth of a New York City officer in 10 months, was
an outgrowth of what officials called one of the city’s most intractable law
enforcement challenges, the persistent violence stemming from socalled
crews, small bands of young men often allied with a particular housing project
or neighborhood and locked in frequently bloody rivalries
Mr. Howard, 30, who was charged on Wednesday with firstdegree
murder and robbery, was believed to be among those sowing violence across a
pocket of East Harlem, several men whose images and gang affiliations hang
in police precinct rollcall rooms and whose faces are known to anticrime unit
officers, like Officer Holder, whose assignment includes confronting the most
Indeed, one of the ways Mr. Howard knew the officer approaching him on
a darkened pathway of F.D.R. Drive — besides by the silver shield dangling
from his neck — was that they had encountered each other before, the police
said. Mr. Howard had 23 arrests as an adult, including one in connection with
a shootout in June 2009 on a basketball court in the East River Houses that
wounded two bystanders: an 11 year old boy and a 77 year old man. (The case
was sealed after prosecutors were unable to present any witnesses who could
identify Mr. Howard.)
Although he was one of 19 defendants in a roundup of alleged crackcocaine
dealers last October in the East River Houses, where he lived, publicly
available court records show no violent felony convictions in his history. The
2009 shooting was sealed, officials said. And, rather than jail, Justice Edward
J. McLaughlin of State Supreme Court in Manhattan, diverted his case in
December to a special court where he was eventually ordered into drug
treatment, a decision that both Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner
William J. Bratton denounced on Wednesday.
“If ever there was a candidate not to have been diverted it would be this guy,” Mr. Bratton said.
A spokesman for the state court system, David Bookstaver, disagreed,
saying the case of Mr. Howard — a repeat drug offender who also used drugs
with no admissible history of violence — was exactly the sort that diversion by
a judge was designed to address. “There would be no reason to have that
judicial authority,” Mr. Bookstaver said, “if all the cases were easy.”
The killing of Officer Holder and the ensuing discord over the handling of
Mr. Howard’s most recent drug case highlighted the tensions playing out in
the criminal justice system as calls grow to reduce the number of people
behind bars and officials try to navigate a potent and emotional debate. Mr.
Bratton had been scheduled to stand with 130 law enforcement leaders in
Washington on Wednesday to call for changes to reduce the nation’s
incarceration rate, and to meet with President Obama on Thursday.
Instead, on Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Bratton stood at Police
Headquarters and in an emotional news conference, alongside Mayor de
Blasio, sought to reconcile the movement to roll back damaging criminal
justice policies with the killing of a local officer by a man who, they said, had
benefited from an earlier reform effort that eased the state’s Rockefeller drug
“Even as we’re attempting to find balance, it’s unfortunate that there are
people in our city and our society that, despite our best efforts, that are going
to be criminals and many of them are violent criminals and we need to
separate them from the rest of us,” Mr. Bratton said. “And this individual I
think is one of those.”
The killing again plunged the department into mourning. Ten months to
the day, on Dec. 20, two uniformed police officers — Wenjian Liu, 32, and
Rafael Ramos, 40 — were ambushed in Brooklyn. The suspect in that shooting,
Ismaaiyl Brinsley, committed suicide in a subway station. Officer Brian Moore,
25, died in May, two days after he was shot by a gunman who fired into his patrol car. The suspect, Demetrius Blackwell, 35, has been charged with firstdegree
murder, attempted firstdegree murder and other crimes. He has
pleaded not guilty.
In an interview after Officer Holder’s shooting, Justice McLaughlin noted
that Mr. Howard had never been convicted of a violent crime as an adult,
though court records show he was aware of a sealed juvenile conviction for
robbery, and that the prison sentences he had served for drug possession and
sale had done nothing to keep him from breaking the law over and over.
Judge McLaughlin said he also took into account a social worker’s report,
submitted by the defense, that said Mr. Howard was a child of addicts who had
been hooked on PCP since he was a teenager. The report said Mr. Howard’s
arrests had all stemmed from his addiction and he would benefit from
“When I get out, I go back to PCP and I know I have to break that cycle,”
Mr. Howard told a social worker, according to the report. He was working
construction in Rye, N.Y., at the time of his October 2014 arrest.
The judge said he also received a long letter from the mother of Mr.
Howard’s child, who begged for leniency. “When you get a robe, you don’t get a
crystal ball,” Justice McLaughlin said, adding he had considered the national
conversation around drug sentencing. “Diversion is a good thing. It has a lot of
The Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., said he had opposed
the request for diversion but respected the judge’s decision.
Over the summer, Mr. Howard stopped taking part in the drug treatment
program, the officials said. A warrant was issued on Sept. 17 after he failed to
show up for court.
On Tuesday night around 8 p.m., Officers Holder and Wallace were patrolling near 120th Street north of the East River Houses. Five years into a
promising police career, including six commendations, Officer Holder, an
immigrant from Guyana, had begun telling relatives of his growing sense of
the dangers of the job he loved.
There have been seven murders so far this year in the housing projects
patrolled by Officer Holder, up from four at this point last year, and an
increasing number of people shot.
At 8:30 p.m., officers on a public housing rooftop heard shots and saw
two groups of men exchanging gunfire on East 102nd Street below them,
Deputy Chief William Aubry, the head of Manhattan detectives, said. Police
officers converged as suspects fled in different directions.
One took off on foot down First Avenue. Others ran across the highway
and down by the East River.
A witness told the police that his bicycle had just been stolen at 106th
Street and the promenade by a man with a gun. A call went out: Be on the
lookout for a suspect, possibly armed, on a bicycle, riding north along the
promenade by the river.
One police unit moved north from 96th Street. Officers Holder and
Wallace began moving in from 120th Street, where there is a footpath over
F.D.R. Drive, Chief Aubry said.
As the officers descended the footpath ramp to the promenade, “Tyrone
approaches them on the bicycle,” Chief Aubry said, and pulls a gun. A single
shot in “the front of the head,” the chief said
Officer Holder was taken to Harlem Hospital Center and declared dead at
Treated for gunshot wounds to a leg and the buttocks, Mr. Howard was
later taken to the 25th Precinct on Wednesday to stand in lineups — for the shooting and the bicycle theft — as detectives combed through video and physical evidence.
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