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©1999 - 2013
Edward D. Reuss
All rights reserved. Including the right of reproduction in whole or part in any form

 

GUN BATTLE AT CLOSE QUARTERS

It was four in the morning on a rainy night in October. The small ranch house in the South Beach section of Staten Island was an unlikely location for a desperate death struggle.  The young woman in the basement apartment became concerned as she noticed her boyfriend making repeated trips into the bathroom.  The boyfriend used cocaine and was apparently using the drug repeatedly during the night. Each time that he did so, she noticed that his physical condition was deteriorating. Finally, she became alarmed when "Anthony" seemed to have great difficulty breathing. She went upstairs to the main part of the house and informed his father, mother, and sister, of his physical condition. His sister called 911 and the father ran to the basement.  His son was totally nude and disoriented. He suddenly became aggressive and assaulted his father. The father slammed the door to his son's room and held it shut to await the arrival of the police.
 
 The 911 call, originally  "Signal 10-54, difficult breathing" had been assigned to 122 Precinct Sector Henry.   Police Officer Stephen LaSpina and his partner Police Officer Angela Leszczynski arrived quickly and the three women directed them to the basement. They ran downstairs and found the father desperately trying to hold the door closed. When the cops called for "Anthony" to stop, he became silent. When Officer LaSpina opened the door a crack, the naked and violent son lunged at him. The cop slammed the door shut with the aid of the father.  Officer Leszczynski ran to get the protective shield from the radio car.  LaSpina struggled to hold the door shut as he shouted over his portable radio that he now had a violent EDP (emotionally disturbed person). As the barricaded male hammered against the door, LaSpina called for the response of the Emergency Service Unit, "forthwith."

Meanwhile, Police Officer Manus O'Donnell and Officer Michael Ahr of the Housing Police Sector arrived as a backup. They ran downstairs to assist LaSpina.   Suddenly, the barricaded male punched a hole through the door and splinters flew as his fist penetrated the wood.  LaSpina took a quick look into the hole in the door and was luckily unhurt as "Anthony" discharged a handgun through the opening.   The slug struck the father in the wrist.

O'Donnell dove behind a washing machine as the father shouted, "The sonovabitch shot me!"

  LaSpina and the father retreated to the left side of the door. Officer Ahr pushed the women up the stairs out of the line of fire.

O'Donnell shouted, "Don't open the door!" 

 "Anthony" opened the door and stepped out with the gun in his hand. He pointed the weapon directly at LaSpina. LaSpina had part of his body covered by the wall as he fired his revolver from less than five feet. O'Donnell fired numerous rounds from his position. The crazed and naked gunman retreated back into the room as the cops called  "Signal 10-13, shots fired" over the police radio.

Sergeant James Reinhold and Police Officer Joseph Luzzi, Staten Island Highway/Emergency Service Unit (HESSI) were on patrol near the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge when they heard the upgraded call of a "barricaded EDP". They were using the unmarked supervisor's car. It was a large sedan and had a lot of ESU equipment in the trunk. Every call of a violent emotionally disturbed person, and especially a "barricaded EDP" necessitated the immediate response of the precinct patrol sergeant, as well as the Duty Captain of the Borough. If the situation deteriorated into a hostage situation, the detectives on Nightwatch, the Citywide Hostage Negotiation Unit, and the Assistant Chief of Police of the Borough was notified to respond. The procedures worked well under best case scenarios.  If it was high noon on a weekday, all those notifications would be a breeze, but this was a late tour. It was four in the morning. In actual practice, Sergeant Reinhold knew that he would be making most of the critical decisions in this situation. He knew he would be making the life and death decisions as those others were pulling on their shoes and socks.

Sergeant Reinhold was an experienced cop. He had numerous decorations including three Commendations, ten Meritorious Police Duty, and twenty-nine Excellent Police Duty awards.  He was a 16-year veteran of the NYPD.  Sergeant Reinhold's career had been like a ride on a rollercoaster. Jim had been laid-off during the NYC financial crisis back in 1975.   He found himself unemployed with less than two years on "The Job". The impossible had happened. They had actually fired New York City police officers by the thousands. To this day, the NYPD suffers from the effects of that decision.  Many officers who had been laid-off suffered financially to such an extent that they have never recovered.  Some lost their homes when they couldn't pay the mortgages. Divorces were common.  There are many veterans still on the job today that have negative feelings towards the NYPD.  "The Job" was never the same after those layoffs.  The job security that we had all been led to believe was inviolate, was shattered for all time.  The public didn't seem to bat an eye at the layoffs of thousands of their police officers. The sight of laid-off police officers picketing at the precincts where they had worked was a sad and humiliating experience for us all. Sergeant Reinhold was accepted on the West Palm Beach, Florida Police Department.  He remembers that there were quite a few ex-NYPD cops looking for work in Florida.  He was recalled by the NYPD after what seemed an eternity.  The City of New York was fortunate that he and many others like him returned.

Sergeant Reinhold and Officer Luzzi arrived on the scene just as LaSpina called the "Signal 10-13".  As he jumped from the car, Reinhold ordered Luzzi to bring the .12 gauge Ithaca shotgun with him. They raced into the house and met Ahr and the stunned women on the main floor of the house. Reinhold told Luzzi to cover him as he descended the staircase into the basement apartment.

 Luzzi recalled that as Sergeant Reinhold started down the stairs, a fusillade of bullets tore through the thin paneled walls.  The slugs splintered the wood as Reinhold threw himself backwards to keep low and then dove headfirst onto the landing below.  As the Sergeant remained in a crouched position on the landing, the shooter began to fire directly at him at pointblank range.  Reinhold fired three quick shots with his service revolver at the armed and naked gunman. The years of training paid off as the Sergeant kept low and the deadly shots went high and over Reinhold's head into the ceiling.  Reinhold was sure that he had hit his target as the man fell back into the room.  Luzzi's view was obstructed by the walls of the staircase and couldn't get off a shot.

In the terror and confusion of the firefight, Reinhold turned and saw Officer LaSpina with the father standing behind and to the side. There was much shouting by the father and the Officers.  The Sergeant called for silence as he tried to establish verbal contact with the son.  Those efforts met with no response from "Anthony".

LaSpina whispered to the Sergeant that he could see movement through the bullet holes in the wall. He said he could fire through the wall if necessary.   Reinhold nodded and whispered up the stairs to Luzzi to be ready to use the Ithaca. He knew he only had three more rounds in his service revolver. There was no time to reload now. Suddenly, the wild shooter reappeared at the door and pointed the automatic pistol at Reinhold.  The Sergeant fired his last three rounds as Luzzi let go with the Ithaca. The roar of the shotgun blast smothered the short popping sounds of the revolvers as Reinhold and LaSpina pumped shots at their assailant. Luzzi could see the slugs of the "double-O" buckshot rip a hole through sheetrock.  The metallic click of the pump action shotgun could be heard above the gunfire as Luzzi ejected the spent shell and pumped another load into the receiver of the Ithaca.  The gunman reeled back under the intense volley of fire as he disappeared again into his room. An eerie silence hung over the basement as the blood pounded in the ears of the cops. . The smell of cordite and clouds of gunsmoke filled the enclosed staircase.

The Sergeant cursed to himself for not carrying his backup gun.  He always carried his off-duty .38 revolver, but on this rainy night, he had left it in his locker. He had been a patrol cop in the 71st Precinct in Crown Heights for years and wouldn't turn out without that backup gun. He had two speedloaders on his gunbelt and he kept his eyes fixed on the doorway as he quickly snapped the leather case open. His years of experience and training served him well as his thumb flicked the ejection rod of his service revolver and the shell casings flew out of the chambers. His eyes darted up and down as he tried to insert the speedloader into the cylinder.  The semi-waddcutters of the high-velocity .38 caliber ammunition were slow to align into each of the six chambers. He felt the rounds slide into the cylinder and quickly snapped the cylinder shut. Out of habit, he backed the hammer up and twirled the cylinder to ensure that the weapon wouldn't jam.

Reinhold yelled up to Luzzi to throw him some ammo.  Luzzi threw some .38 caliber speedloaders down the stairs. Luzzi could see the Sergeant grab the ammunition and dart back away from the landing.   When he saw Reinhold's arm, he saw blood all over his shirt and he was sure that the Sergeant was wounded.  They later learned that the blood was from the gunshot wound to the father that was all over the landing.  

Luzzi shouted: "Are you hit?"

 Sergeant Reinhold yelled back "I don't know!" as he examined himself in disbelief.

 Reinhold crouched again with his service revolver in the two-handed supported position and stared intently down the barrel of the weapon.  Suddenly, he caught sight of the shooter through the partially opened door. The armed male saw the Sergeant at the same instant and took aim at Reinhold, but the Sergeant got off one well-aimed shot.  The suspect then disappeared from view inside his room. The cops listened for what seemed a long period of time. There was complete silence.

The Emergency Service Truck manned by Police James Barile and Police Officer Robert Higgins arrived at that moment and threw ballistics helmets and heavy vests down the staircase. As far as they were concerned, Sergeant Reinhold, Officers LaSpina, O"Donnell, and Ahr were still pinned down by the armed male.  With no further shots being fired, and only silence coming from the room, Officers Barile and Luzzi descended the stairs behind a ballistics shield and tied the door down to seal off the room. They placed a ballistics blanket over the door and waited.

Meanwhile, other units had responded to the scene of the firefight. The Sergeant's voice was steady as he transmitted from the basement and ordered the cops to evacuate the homes on either side.

Officers outside spotted "Anthony" through a basement window.  He looked like he was unconscious.  Emergency Service Sergeant Martin Garvey, of ESS#9 Brooklyn, and Sergeant Reinhold and Officer Higgins opened the cellar door and found that "Anthony" had died with multiple gunshot wounds to the head and body.

When Reinhold had a chance to examine the room, his eyes glanced at the neo-Nazi flag draped on the wall.  When they had a chance to search the room, they found seven loaded handguns, twelve rifles of various calibers with seven boxes of ammunition. There were also two training hand grenades and a homemade explosive device. The also found the presence of cocaine and drug paraphernalia.

The condition that has become known as "Cocaine Psychosis" became a familiar term to the cops in the street during the years of the Crack Cocaine epidemic. Any police officer who has dealt with a person in that condition will rarely forget the effects of the drug on the human mind and body.  The physical effects of Cocaine Psychosis are so violent and extreme that prisoners in custody who have been restrained in traditional restraint equipment have died while suffering from the effects of that drug.  Such deaths have frequently resulted in charges of police misconduct and brutality. The medical community knows full well the risks of death to cocaine users under this terrible reaction.  Police officers confronted by violent and life-threatening cocaine users are at risk whenever they must restrain them.

Each time a violent EDP dies in a police incident, there are the almost mandatory accusations of police brutality and misconduct by those who have their own agenda. Then, the usual litigation is initiated against the City of New York. There are those who feel that most of these tragedies can be prevented by the use of various devices that are designed to prevent the use of deadly physical force. Over the years, the trunks of ESU and patrol cars have been filled with various "non-lethal restraining devices". The alternate use of force now includes such things as: Tasers, stun guns, water cannons, velcro restraining straps, a five foot plexi-glass shield, the pathetic "shepherd's crook" and restraining blankets that are designed to prevent asphyxiation.  Now there is talk of non-lethal bullets.  We used to laughingly talk about throwing a net over violent EDPs. I am certain that such a net is being designed as this is being written. For Sergeant Reinhold and the cops in that basement apartment on that rainy night in October, such devices were not an alternative.

There has also been a questionable trend to delay critical decision-making at the level of execution. The procedures of many police departments require the response of the highest-ranking officers.  There is a detailed procedure for setting up inner and outer perimeters and frozen zones. This may work well during banking hours or when such officers are on duty, but on late tours or weekends, there may not be time to wait for a delayed response.  Many times, decisive action by first responders prevents a situation from deteriorating.  In a City the size of New York, there could be a number of such incidents occurring at the same time.  A Duty Chief performing a late tour could find himself responding to all five boroughs of the City of New York to personally supervise barricaded or hostage situations.  Such a policy of micro-management may have the seeds of disaster within it. When those in upper management are prevented from delegating their authority, it violates one of the cardinal rules of military or police command.  If they can't delegate authority to competent ranking officers under their command, they are saddled with an awesome responsibility.  It is unfair to ask them to bear such a burden.  Captains of police are in positions of rank for such delegation of authority. The responsibility is still ultimately the Duty Chief's, but at least give the ranking officers the flexibility that they need to deal with incidents that require quick and timely decisions.

On Medal Day, June 7, l990, Sergeant James Reinhold, and Police Officer Stephen LaSpina, and Police Officer Joseph Luzzi were awarded the Medal for Valor. The Housing Police had not yet merged with the NYPD.  The New York City Housing Authority Police awarded medals to Police Officer O'Connell and Ahr in a separate ceremony. 

EDITORíS NOTE
Photos From the personal Collection of  Lt. Reinhold

©Copyright l999 Edward D. Reuss

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