New York City police are trying to determine if Wednesday's ambush stabbing of an officer in Brooklyn was inspired by anti-police sentiments expressed during days of protests and unrest over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Commissioner Dermot Shea said Thursday.
Officer Yayonfrant Jean Pierre was stabbed in the neck while on an anti-looting patrol, spurring a struggle that saw the suspect shot and two other officers sustaining gunshot injuries to their hands. Jean Pierre and the other officers, Randy Ramnarine and Dexter Chiu, were expected to recover, police said.
The suspect, 20-year-old Dzenan Camovic, was hospitalized in critical condition with multiple gunshot wounds, Shea said. He has yet to be charged and the case could end up in the hands of federal prosecutors, with the FBI saying it would use “every federal statute available to hold the perpetrator accountable.” Information on Camovic's lawyer was not immediately available.
The bloodshed happened just before midnight Wednesday, in the hours after an 8 p.m. curfew that was intended to quell days of at-times violent protests in the wake of Floyd’s death. Along with peaceful demonstrations, there have been smash-and-grab sprees and a string of assaults on police officers.
Shea called for calm Thursday at a news conference that opened with a broadside against elected officials and others whom he blamed for stirring up animosity by speaking against police and sharing videos on social media that, presented without context, are seen as evidence of officer misconduct.
“How do we move forward?” Shea said. “I do not know how we will get there. I wish I had all the answers, but I know this much. We cannot reach that place until we end the hateful speech and the law breaking and the unprovoked attacks against police officers and the rhetoric that fuels.”
Shea said it was too early in the investigation to say what motivated Wednesday night's attack, but police union head Patrick Lynch said he saw a connection to the protests.
“Did we doubt? Because of the rhetoric we’re hearing, the anti-police rhetoric that’s storming our streets, are we surprised?" said Lynch, president of the Police Benevolent Association. “I’m not. We said it’s going to happen.”
Wednesday's stabbing happened a block from a spot where demonstrators and police engaged days earlier in an hourslong standoff, during which a police car was burned and protesters were beaten with batons.
Shea said the attacker casually approached two officers stationed in the area to prevent pilfering around 11:45 p.m. and stabbed one — Jean Pierre, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Officers a short distance away heard gunshots, rushed to the scene and saw the man with a gun in his hand, believed to have been taken from one of the officers, Shea said. The responding officers then opened fire.
"It appears to be a completely, cowardly, despicable, unprovoked attack,” Shea said.
The commissioner said 22 shell casings were recovered. He didn’t say whether the officers’ hand wounds came from fellow officers' guns.
Jean Pierre is a Haitian immigrant, and Ramnarine and Chiu are children of immigrants, de Blasio said.
They represent “all that is great about New York City," de Blasio said. “They represented the fact that people come from all over this country, all over this world, to find a better life ... and then some choose to serve all of us.”
The stabbing was one of multiple assaults on police officers in recent days, including a driver plowing into a sergeant in the Bronx, a lieutenant struck in the helmet by a brick during a brawl in Manhattan, a Molotov cocktail thrown into a van full of officers in Brooklyn, and gunshots fired at an occupied police cruiser in Queens.
Hours after the Brooklyn ambush, police in Queens shot a man they said followed two officers into a store, menaced them with a knife and refused commands to drop the weapon. He is hospitalized in stable condition, police said.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the attacks on police officers “unconscionable.”
“People attack police officers? They run up to police officers, they stab a police officer? They’ve treated police officers with such disrespect in New York City that I am stunned,” Cuomo, a Democrat, said at a news briefing in Albany.
At the same time, police have been criticized for harsh tactics to corral protesters and enforce the curfew. More than 350 current and former members of de Blasio’s administration published an open letter Thursday denouncing brutality, such as officers swatting protesters with batons, a police vehicle driven into a crowd and an officer seen throwing a woman to the ground.
Shea apologized for “our part in the damage to stability” and said some of those officers would face discipline.
This story has been corrected to show that the stabbing happened at 11:45 p.m., not 11:45 a.m.
Associated Press writers Jennifer Peltz in New York and Marina Villeneuve in Albany contributed.
Michael R. Sisak And Jim Mustian, The Associated Press