NEW YORK – A 22-year veteran police officer responding to a break-in Monday was shot in the face and killed by one of the suspects hiding inside the apartment when officers arrived, police said.
Officer Peter Figoski, who could have retired two years ago with a full pension, died at a hospital just hours after the shooting, authorities said.
Lamont Pride, 27, was arrested on murder charges. There was no answer to calls at a Greensboro, N.C., address where he said he lived, and there was no phone listed for a Brooklyn home. It was unclear when he would be arraigned, and there was no information on whether he had an attorney. A second suspect was being sought.
Figoski had more than 200 arrests in his career and had been awarded 12 medals, including an exceptional merit medal for coming under fire in a brush with a man who would later be convicted as the city's notorious Zodiac Killer of the early 1990s.
On Monday, Figoski was part of a backup team of officers who responded to a report of a break-in at the basement apartment in the East New York section of Brooklyn, police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said. The owner of the two-story building, who lives on the first and second floors and rents out the barely-finished basement apartment, called 911 at about 2:15 a.m.
The two suspects had tried to flee through the back of the long, narrow apartment, but they couldn't find a way out and were hiding in a side room full of tools as officers walked past them and started to interview the tenant and a neighbor. The suspects were trying to escape through the front when they ran into Figoski, police said. He was shot once at so close a range his gold collar insignia flew off. A handprint, possibly the suspect's, was found in a pool of blood.
Figoski's partner of three years, Glenn Estrada, was struggling with the second suspect in front of the house when he heard the shot and saw the shooter take off, Kelly said. Estrada chased after Pride for blocks before capturing him, Kelly said. Estrada, a decorated 15-year veteran, was treated for a shoulder injury.
"I want to commend Officer Estrada, who had the presence of mind to focus on the man with the gun, and the courage to chase him down and capture him," Kelly said.
Police found a silver, semi-automatic pistol under a parked car near where Pride was arrested. One round had been fired; 10 more live rounds were inside.
Police found a second gun stashed inside a filthy microwave at the apartment. They believe the weapon, an unloaded revolver, belongs to the at-large suspect. Police later released a photo culled from a nearby laundry security camera that showed the suspect in a grey short-sleeved shirt despite the cold winter weather.
Figoski, 47, of West Babylon, N.Y., was divorced and had four daughters. Carolyn, 16, and Corrine, 14, are in high school, and Christine, 20, and Caitlyn, 18, are in college upstate. Kelly and state police Lt. Michael Greco arranged to have the elder daughters flown by helicopter to Albany, N.Y., and then by state police plane to Kennedy Airport so they could be with their father.
His brother Robert Figoski is a retired police officer, and his brother-in-law is an officer.
"It is a family that has dedicated its lives to making this city safe, and it's just such a tragedy," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.
A Suffolk County police cruiser kept guard Monday outside Peter Figoski's Cape Cod-style home on a quiet street on suburban Long Island; no one answered the door.
"I got goosebumps all over my body when I heard the news," said Helen Krebs, who lives across the street. She said Figoski's two eldest daughters babysat for her 5-year-old son and she frequently saw Figoski working on his yard.
"He raised his daughters wonderfully. They were hardworking, conscientious, wonderful, salt-of-the-earth-type people," Krebs said.
"I could rely on him to be very helpful if I needed something," she said. "It was comforting having him as a neighbor."
In his work, Figoski "spent his entire career patrolling the streets of East New York and serving its citizens with respect and dignity," said Patrick Lynch, head of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.
During that career, Figoski was one of the first officers to respond to a call of a man having shot his sister in their Brooklyn apartment on June 18, 1996, police said. The man, Heriberto Seda, fired homemade guns at Figoski and other officers from the windows at the start of what turned into a 3 1/2-hour standoff with officers. Seda eventually gave himself up, and police then linked him to the Zodiac killings that had terrorized New York six years before, when someone vowed to kill one person born under each of the 12 astrological signs.
Seda, whose lawyers told jurors the evidence was rigged to fit him, was convicted of three murders and numerous attempted murder counts. He is serving a 235-year sentence.
On Monday, the Brooklyn tenant told police he heard the suspects pounding on the basement door, claiming to be police. They got in and demanded money, pistol-whipped him and took $770 in cash and a watch, police said.
Detectives were investigating whether the tenant was dealing marijuana out of the apartment and some of the stolen money was drug money. Police received calls nearby that drugs were being sold, but not at the address.
But, according to police, Pride told them he was at the home to buy pot.
"He has made statements implicating himself as the shooter," police chief spokesman Paul Browne said.
The tenant, who works at a nearby bodega, told police one person was wearing a ski mask. A ski mask was found on the street corner where Pride was arrested.
Bloomberg, an outspoken advocate for gun control, said the suspected shooter's gun was purchased illegally and reiterated his plea for stricter gun laws around the country. New York has some of the strictest nationwide.
It was the second time this year a New York Police Department officer was killed in the line of duty. Officer Alain Schaberger fell nine feet off a stoop and broke his neck while responding to a domestic violence call in Brooklyn in March. The man accused of pushing him has pleaded not guilty to murder.
Associated Press writers Frank Eltman in West Babylon, N.Y., and Samantha Gross and Jennifer Peltz in New York contributed to this report.