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NYPD officer shot during confrontation in Washington Heights, police say

The suspect was shot in the chest and was pronounced dead at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, police said.

NYPD Officer Justin Vartanian was released Friday from Mount Sinai St. Luke's Hospital, after he was shot during a confrontation on Thursday in Washington Heights. (Credit: NYPD)

A police officer was shot and a suspect was killed in a Washington Heights parking lot on Thursday during a confrontation described by Mayor Bill de Blasio as a "fast, intense episode" that unfolded in broad daylight.

The officer, a five-year veteran of the force, was shot in the right armpit just before 4:30 p.m. on Broadway near West 187th Street, NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill said. He was taken to Mount Sinai St. Luke's Hospital in Morningside Heights and was in stable condition, according to police.

Plainclothes officers with the 34th Precinct anti-crime unit were responding to a ShotSpotter activation and a 911 report of gunfire in the area of 187th Street and Wadsworth Avenue when they encountered the unidentified suspect, O'Neill said.

"The suspect then runs, with a gun in his hand, and an officer pursues on foot leading to a parking lot on Broadway north of 187th Street," the police commissioner said. "Our officer takes cover behind a vehicle three cars away. The suspect then fired three rounds at the police officer, who was struck in the right armpit, and the wounded officer fires back one time."

While the shootout was going on, O'Neill said the officer's partner, also with the anti-crime unit, pulled into the parking lot in an unmarked police car and immediately got out to engage the suspect.

"One bullet, fired by the suspect, goes past this officer and through the windshield of the police car. The second officer then fires three rounds at the suspect," he said. 

The suspect was hit once in the chest, according to O'Neill. He was taken to NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center where he was pronounced dead.

The Rev. Ambiorix Rodriguez, the pastor of St. Elizabeth Church on Wadsworth Avenue, said he didn’t hear any gunfire but was alerted to the melee by the helicopters hovering above the neighborhood.

"I began praying," he said, adding that the area recently saw another shooting. "The other day we had one at [St. Nicholas Avenue] and 186th [Street]."

O'Neill and de Blasio visited with the injured officer and his family at the hospital, where he was said to be in good spirits. The mayor commended the officers for handling the situation with "extraordinary professionalism and courage."

"Here we are, talking about broad daylight, something happening out of nowhere. These officers did everything right to protect the people of this community," de Blasio said.

O'Neill said police are combing through video, including body-worn cameras from the officers and surveillance footage from the parking lot, as part of the investigation. Police are still trying to determine if the suspect was firing into the air or at someone when the 911 call was received.

Police initially stated there was a second suspect, but O'Neill said there were no other suspects Thursday evening. A man was arrested on a charge of obstructing governmental administration because he was videotaping the incident, police said.   

A firearm was recovered at the scene, police said.

With Newsday

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