The bystander, identified as Felix Kumi, died of two torso wounds on Saturday, police said. The gunman had attempted to rob the undercover officer just as he was about to buy a gun from a suspected illegal arms dealer in a vehicle as part of the Friday operation. The robber was reportedly hit three times as he was running away.
The number of hits, however, was a far cry from the total number of shots fired by the cop from NYPD’s Firearms Investigations Unit. According to witness reports and police statements cited by the New York Daily News, the officer fired at the fleeing robber anywhere between 11 and 21 shots.
As it turned out, the gunman, Alvin Smothers, 37, had threatened the cop with an “imitation pistol.” Smothers hopped into the back seat of his car, putting the fake gun to the officer’s head and demanding money as the undercover cop was waiting to make his weapons purchase. Smothers escaped the scene with the whole sum – reportedly $2,400 – intended for the gun dealer, but was later arrested. He is now in hospital with serious injuries.
The innocent victim’s family was in a state of shock following the shooting. Kumi was a deeply spiritual man who “touched everyone he met,” according to family members quoted by NY Daily News. The man, described as a devout Jehovah’s Witness, was walking along Beekman Ave to pick up his car from a repair shop when he was twice struck by police bullets.
“Mr. Kumi was blameless, and this tragedy has tested and tried his family,” NYPD Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said in a statement on Saturday. “I pray that they may find comfort in their hope of resurrection and awakening.”
It was not immediately clear if the NYPD considered the undercover officer to be as blameless. According to Mount Vernon police commissioner Terrance Raynor and witnesses, the shooting spree also hit several vehicles, with bullets flying through windows of a nearby business and through the front door of a house.
The NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau is said to be reviewing the tactics used by the undercover officer and his supervisors, which includes the cop’s decision to break cover and fire shots.
The officer, who has not been named, is described as a 10-year veteran of the NYPD, and had reportedly bought 25 guns from the same gun dealer, 28-year-old Jeffrey Aristy, in 10 previous encounters. The extensive firearm shopping was explained as necessary to identify Aristy’s supplier, as part of a “long-terms firearms investigation.”
The suspected illegal arms dealer, who was reportedly also shot, initially slipped away from the scene, but was caught outside his home in the Bronx. The man has been charged with several counts of criminal sale of a firearm, as well as the sale of a controlled substance.
The shooting incident is now being investigated by the Westchester County district attorney, while the state Attorney General’s office has not yet decided if it will pursue the case in the police-involved killing.