NEW YORK — Minutes before killing two policemen in Brooklyn, a man told two people, “Watch what I’m gonna do,” police said Sunday as they pieced together the final hours of a man with a history of arrests and, according to his family, violence and suicide attempts.
At a news conference, New York Police Chief Robert Boyce said Ismaaiyl Brinsley’s violent behavior Saturday began in Maryland, where he used a key that he was not supposed to have to let himself into the apartment of an ex-girlfriend.
When the woman objected to him being there, Boyce said Brinsley shot her in the stomach with a Taurus 9mm gun, the same one he used about nine hours later to kill officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos as they sat in their patrol car in Brooklyn. Boyce said Brinsley shot his ex-girlfriend, who is expected to survive, about 5:50 a.m.
“At about 6:05 he calls the girlfriend’s mother and says he shot her by accident and hopes she lives,” Boyce said.
Police believe Brinsley, 28, then caught a bus to New York City. He was captured on video near a major bus drop-off point in Manhattan boarding an N train. A couple of hours later, Brinsley was again captured on video in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn talking to two men.
“He asks for their gang affiliation,” said Boyce, adding that police have spoken to the two men and do not believe they had anything to do with the police killings. “He asks them to follow (him) on Instagram. He then says, ‘Watch what I’m gonna do.’ ”
Minutes later, he approached the officers and opened fire, killing them both.
Boyce said police are using electronic records from Brinsley’s Metro cards to determine if he was in New York City earlier in the week and, if so, whether he was involved in any of the protests focusing on allegations of police brutality.
According to law enforcement officials, Brinsley has 19 arrests in Georgia and Ohio, dating back to August 2004.
Boyce said Brinsley’s mother, who lives in Brooklyn, said she had not spoken to her son in about a month. She has told police “he had a very troubled childhood and was often violent,” Boyce said. “He attempted suicide in the past and attempted to hang himself a year ago.”
Boyce said the family is Muslim but that Brinsley “has never expressed any radicalization at all.”
Earlier Sunday, civic leaders appealed for an end to the politicization of the police officers’ slayings and urged protesters who have accused police of abuse of power to halt their demonstrations until after the officers’ funerals.
As religious and political leaders called for an end to angry rhetoric, vigils were being planned on opposite ends of the city by different groups, a sign of the polarization between activists and supporters of the New York Police Department.
A group that has helped organize marches alleging police brutality scheduled a candlelight “vigil for justice” in upper Manhattan on Sunday evening. A separate vigil in memory of the officers was scheduled at the site of the slayings.
The killings of officers Liu and Ramos reverberated from the sidewalk outside the pizza shop where they died, to the pulpit of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, to Washington, D.C., a sign of the shock over the brazen attack.
“As we are in solidarity with our police officers who themselves experienced a death in the family and yes, as we worry about a city tempted to tension and division, good news this morning might seem distant, difficult, even somewhat indiscreet,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan said at a morning service attended by Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner William Bratton.
In Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, the Brooklyn borough president, Eric Adams, gathered with other borough leaders and clergy and asked demonstrators demanding police reform to join in remembering the slain officers.
“I’m asking all of those to hold off on any form of protest until these officers are laid to rest in a peaceful manner,” said Adams, standing in front of a growing memorial of flowers, candles, a Christmas wreath and a menorah.
Alluding to protesters’ chants that “Black lives matter,” Adams, who is black, said, “We are asking New Yorkers to turn this pain into purpose and to ensure that we send out a very clear and loud message: All lives matter.”
As he spoke, many in the crowd of mainly black and Latino onlookers nodded their heads in agreement.
“This was a madman who carried out this crime,” said Isaac Mickens, a local black clergyman. “This was wrong.”
“One hundred percent wrong,” added Jimmy Hicks, who is black and lives in the neighborhood.
While most of the protests that have taken place in New York almost daily to protest police have been peaceful, the Bronx borough president, Ruben Diaz Jr., said some marchers’ chants and signs sent a message of hate and advocated violence against police.
“I think there are a lot of folks who don’t participate in these protests because of the hatred being spewed against the NYPD,” Diaz said.
The protests have been going on since July, when an unarmed black man named Eric Garner died after an altercation with a policeman in Staten Island. A grand jury this month declined to indict the officer, who is white. Last month, another unarmed black man named Akai Gurley was shot dead by a police officer in what Bratton and de Blasio called a tragic error.
Those incidents have fueled the New York demonstrations, which were mainly peaceful until Dec. 13 when several protesters scuffled with two policemen trying to make an arrest during a march across the Brooklyn Bridge. On Sunday, police announced the arrest of a fifth person in connection with the melee, which left an officer with a broken nose.
Police still are seeking several more people caught on video taking part in the scuffle, which began when an officer tried to arrest a man on suspicion of attempting to throw a trash container over a bridge railing onto traffic below. Those arrested so far face charges that include rioting and assault.
The gunman involved in Saturday’s killings, Brinsley, had stated in online posts hours before he acted that he planned to avenge the deaths of Garner and Michael Brown. Brown was shot to death in Ferguson, Mo., in August by a white police officer. As in Garner’s case, a grand jury declined to indict the policeman.
The families of Garner and Brown quickly condemned the killings of the New York police officers.
Court records show that Brinsley, 28, was a high school dropout with a history of mental health treatment who repeatedly ran afoul of the law in Georgia.
He had also violated probation for several years by not checking in with a parole officer and failing to complete court-ordered evaluations to screen for drug and alcohol abuse and potential anger-management problems, the records showed.
Brinsley had an arrest record in Cobb County, Ga., and shot and wounded his ex-girlfriend outside Baltimore before heading to Brooklyn. Officials said Brinsley used his ex-girlfriend’s cellphone and social media accounts to post anti-police messages. They tracked him to Brooklyn through the cellphone and sent a message to New York police warning them of Brinsley’s presence, but the message arrived just minutes before Brinsley ambushed the officers, according to police.
Brinsley then fled into a nearby subway station and shot himself to death.
At a hospital news conference, some police officers turned their backs on de Blasio as he arrived to speak to the media. Police union leaders have accused the mayor of not supporting them in their dealings with protesters, and on Saturday they said de Blasio has blood on his hands for not cracking down on marchers.
Adams, though, said Brinsley was the only person to blame for the latest killings.
“Blood is on the hands of one individual, a sick mind who did a sick act,” he said as flags across the state flew at half-staff.
The 13-year-old son of Ramos, Jaden Ramos, posted a tribute to his father on his Facebook page, calling him “the best father I could ask for.”
“It’s horrible that someone gets shot dead just for being a police officer. Everyone says they hate cops but they are the people that they call for help,” he wrote.
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Brinsley had previously been convicted in 2008 of felony shoplifting in Fulton County, Ga., and called the southwestern Atlanta suburb of Union City his home.
He popped up in the Cleveland area in late 2009, and called Union City his home in a man-on-the-street interview with Crain’s Cleveland Business, a business publication. Brinsley told the publication he planned on “investing” his money instead of doing holiday shopping: “I’m investing it in somebody I really cherish, really love for the holidays, rather than just getting everybody everything.”
On July 6, 2011, in the Atlanta area, Brinsley shot a woman’s 2007 Chevy Malibu with a .25-caliber semiautomatic handgun that he wasn’t supposed to have — not just because he was a felon, but because it had been stolen, according to Cobb County, Ga., court records.
In addition to being charged with receiving and possessing the stolen gun and shooting the car with it near a public street, Brinsley was charged with obstructing two Cobb County police officers “by fleeing from said officers and refusing to obey said officers’ lawful commands,” according to a criminal complaint.
A judge appointed a defense attorney to represent Brinsley after he was found to be too poor to afford one, and in less than a month he pleaded guilty in exchange for seven years of probation and a 180-day probation “boot camp,” a state prison-run program with a “highly structured … military regimen.” The boot camp is for younger offenders who have not previously spent time in an adult prison.
In a plea-deal questionnaire, Brinsley said he had attended high school only through 10th grade and answered “yes” to a question that asked, “Have you ever been a patient in a mental institution or under the care of a psychiatrist or psychologist?”
No further information was provided other than that Brinsley said he understood the plea deal and what was happening in court.
According to the Georgia Department of Corrections, probation boot camp participants are required to have “no known mental disorder or retardation that would prevent participation in a program that requires intensive interaction and strenuous physical activity.”
Soon after Brinsley took the plea deal in August 2011, he dropped off officials’ radar.
Brinsley, facing prison time if he failed to meet the conditions of his plea agreement, stopped checking in with his probation supervisor in December 2011, according to a court filing the supervisor filed in 2013. Brinsley had also not paid $975 in court fees and had not completed the drug and alcohol and anger evaluations.
In June of this year, officials reported that they couldn’t find Brinsley at his home in Union City.
(Staff writer Matt Pearce in Los Angeles contributed to this report.)
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