HAUPPAUGE, N.Y. – Five months before a gunman murdered four people during a pharmacy holdup for prescription painkillers, a police detective expressed concerns about the suspect being issued a pistol permit, but it appears no action was taken, according to a report published Friday.
Suffolk County Detective Kenneth Ripp contacted the department's Pistol License Bureau in January after interviewing David Laffer in a separate investigation, according to the Newsday report. Ripp was investigating the theft of $8,220 from Laffer's mother's bank account.
Ripp was told by an officer in the permit bureau that Laffer should be allowed to retain the permits, but there would be a follow-up investigation. It is not clear what, if any, follow-up took place.
Laffer pleaded guilty earlier this month to first-degree murder in the June killings of two employees and two customers at Haven Drugs in Medford, admitting he robbed the pharmacy of prescription painkillers. He is expected to receive consecutive life-without-parole sentences next month. Laffer's wife, who drove the getaway car during the holdup, is facing more than 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to robbery charges.
Laffer said in a jailhouse interview that also appeared Friday in Newsday that even if his pistol permit had been revoked and handgun confiscated, he likely still would have acquired a weapon to use in the holdup. "If someone's dedicated enough, they can get a gun," he said.
The killings were the worst on Long Island since a gunman shot up a commuter railroad train in 1993, killing six, and focused national attention on the growing problem of prescription drug robberies.
According to Newsday, which obtained a police report under a Freedom of Information request with the district attorney's office, Ripp expressed concerns over Laffer's possession of a pistol permit during an unrelated investigation. He and his partner had visited the Laffer home in Medford last January after Palma Laffer -- the gunman's mother -- reported money had been stolen from her bank account. By the time detectives arrived, Laffer had confessed the theft to his mother, who told police she did not want to press charges against her son.
Ripp interviewed Laffer outside the home, and after Laffer told him about the pistol permit, Ripp then contacted the pistol licensing bureau. Ripp's attorney, Jeffrey Goldberg, told The Associated Press on Friday that the detective's instincts were that Laffer should not have weapons. "His instincts were that something was going on," Goldberg said. "If the bureau was conscientious, they would have found a reason to confiscate the guns."
Among the reasons the bureau can use for confiscating guns is whether a person is behaving in a manner that would cause "a normal, rational person to be fearful or threatened," according to Suffolk's pistol license handbook.
Ripp, in a police report, said, "P.O. (Kelly) Smith stated to undersigned that she would inform her supervisor of the nature of our investigation and the incident that took place. P.O. Smith stated that the weapons could remain in the home and that the SCPD Pistol Licensing Bureau would follow up with their own investigation in the future."
Smith did not return a call for comment and her supervisor, Sgt. Michael Esposito, declined to comment, according to Newsday.
Police Commissioner Richard Dormer did not say whether an investigation was conducted by the licensing bureau.
"Prior to the horrific murders at Haven Drugs, the Suffolk County Police Department received no information from any source indicating that Mr. Laffer was a drug abuser," Dormer said in a statement.
"Any information or allegations of acts of violence or illegal drug use brought to the attention of the police department would have been forwarded to the Pistol License Bureau, and would have caused an immediate investigation and a suspension of a pistol license issued to a person accused of either act."
Authorities said Laffer walked into Haven Drugs in Medford shortly after 10 a.m. on June 19 -- Father's Day -- and opened fire without announcing a robbery, killing a pharmacist and a 17-year-old store clerk. He then fatally shot two customers who unwittingly walked in on the carnage, authorities said, before filling his backpack with hydrocodone-type painkillers.
Store surveillance video showed the assailant, disguised in a scruffy beard augmented by mascara, firing at the victims. The first shot was fired from a .45-caliber handgun hidden in the backpack, striking the pharmacist behind the counter. Laffer then found the store clerk and shot her. As he began filling a backpack with pills, two customers walked into the store and he sneaked up behind them and fired shots into their heads. He then fled with thousands of pills.
Laffer also claimed in the jailhouse interview that the first shot was an accident. District Attorney Thomas Spota called Laffer "an outrageous liar" and said video surveillance shows him deliberately firing the first shot at the pharmacist through his backpack."