NEW YORK » A career criminal wanted by police in the shooting of a gang member last month was arrested and expected to be charged with fatally shooting an officer during a gunfight on a pedestrian bridge after stealing a bike, authorities said today.
Tyrone Howard, suspected of killing New York Police Department Officer Randolph Holder on Tuesday night, had been arrested 20 times for offenses including drug possession and robbery, authorities said. He’s been sentenced to state prison twice since 2007 on drug possession and sale convictions, state records show.
Howard, 30, had also been wanted in connection with a Sept. 1 shooting in Manhattan, said James O’Neill, the NYPD’s chief of department. Investigators suspected Howard had shot at a member of the East Army gang, but he wasn’t arrested because he skipped out on court dates and police couldn’t track him down at his home, O’Neill said.
He was out of the hospital and in police custody today. Charges against him were pending. It was unclear if he had a lawyer.
Holder was the second New York Police Department officer killed this year and the fourth slain in the past 11 months, said Police Commissioner William Bratton.
"That’s about as bad as it gets," Bratton said at an emotional news conference at Harlem Hospital early today.
Dozens of Holder’s fellow officers stood outside the hospital and saluted as the ambulance carrying their fallen colleague left. Afterward, many embraced one another.
"Tonight, he did what every other officer in the NYPD does when the call comes — he ran toward danger," Bratton said. "It was the last time he will respond to that call."
The fatal shooting happened as Holder and his partner responded to a report of shots being fired at around 8:30 p.m. near a public housing development in East Harlem, in north Manhattan. When they arrived, a man and other witnesses said his bike had been stolen at gunpoint and the suspect fled with a group of people along a footpath heading north on the FDR Drive, adjacent to the East River.
The officers caught up to a man with a bike on a pedestrian overpass that spans the highway and traded gunfire, police said. Holder, 33, was struck in the head, and the suspect ditched the bike and fled down the river path near the highway, police said. He was caught several blocks away with a gunshot wound to his leg, Bratton said.
Three others who were taken into custody for questioning were later released.
So far this year in New York, one other officer, Patrolman Brian Moore, has been shot and killed, and a suspect was charged with murder. On Dec. 20, Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were ambushed and shot to death by a man who said he wanted to kill some cops in Brooklyn.
No officers were shot and killed in 2013 or 2012. But while line-of-duty police slayings are down from a high of 12 in 1971, the four police killed in the past 11 months is more than in any 12-month period in recent years, police records show. In 1996, five police officers were shot and killed, according to NYPD statistics.
Nationwide, 31 officers besides Holder have been killed by firearms in the past year, down from 38 the year before, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, a nonprofit law enforcement information clearinghouse.
Police today searched for the suspect’s gun near where Holder had been shot. They had recovered a clip and shell casings believed to have come from Howard’s weapon.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said Holder, who joined the force in July 2010, had an "exemplary record" as a police officer.
"We are humbled by Officer Randolph Holder’s example, an example of service and courage and sacrifice," the mayor said.
Holder was a native of Guyana. He worked in the NYPD division that polices the city’s public housing developments. His father and grandfather were police officers in Guyana, Bratton said.
Flags were at half-staff today at city buildings and other structures around the boroughs to mark Holder’s death. Police closed sections of streets near the scene of the shooting, forcing parents walking their children to a nearby grade school to use an alternate route.
"There’s a lot of crime around here that comes from the housing (projects)," said Monica Amolina, who works at the school. "It’s a high-crime area. Lots of gang activity. I always walk fast to work."
Associated Press writers Jonathan Lemire, Colleen Long, Tom Hays, Jake Pearson and Alex Lynch contributed to this report.