NEW YORK (AP) — A man accused of ambushing New York City police officers in a patrol van and then at a precinct was arraigned Monday on attempted murder and other charges.
The shootings have led to recriminations from police officials and union leaders who criticized recent demonstrations as creating an “anti-police” atmosphere as well as pushback to that characterization from police reform advocates who said making that connection was irresponsible.
Under the watching eyes of the police officers who packed a Bronx courtroom, a handcuffed Robert Williams, 45, made his first appearance following his Sunday arrest, wearing a gray sweatshirt and sweatpants, one eye swollen shut and a bandage on his ear.
Williams, of the Bronx, was charged with multiple counts of attempted murder. He is accused of approaching a police patrol van on Saturday night and firing at two officers inside, wounding one before escaping on foot, and also of opening fire Sunday morning at the 41st precinct headquarters, where he wounded a police lieutenant before being arrested.
Williams was remanded into custody after his appearance and is due back in court on Feb. 14. He was represented in court by an attorney from The Bronx Defenders.
“There is still much that we don’t know about what happened and what led up to this incident,” attorney Tom Klein said in a statement. “We look forward to investigating and learning more so that we can best represent Mr. Williams.”
Earlier Monday, Lt. Jose Gautreaux, who was wounded at the 41st precinct, was greeted by lines of waiting officers as he left the hospital. His arm in a sling and a police jacket over his shoulders, Gautreaux got out of a wheelchair at the hospital entrance, walking to a waiting car and giving the crowd a thumbs-up. Among those there was NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea.
The officer who was wounded in that earlier attack, Paul Stroffolino, was released from the hospital on Sunday evening.
Police said Williams had a long criminal history, including a 2002 shooting and carjacking in which he fired a gun at police. He was paroled from prison in 2017.
Shea has been vocal in condemning criminal justice reform activists for engaging in protests that he suggested have been part of creating what he called an anti-police environment.
“These things are not unrelated. We had people marching through the streets of New York City recently,” Shea said Sunday. “Words matter. And words affect people’s behavior.”
His comments were echoed by Mayor Bill de Blasio.
“Anyone who spews hatred at our officers is aiding and abetting this kind of atmosphere; it is not acceptable,” de Blasio said. “You could protest for whatever you believe in, but you cannot vilely attack those who are here to protect us. It creates this kind of dynamic.”
But de Blasio came under criticism from the Sergeants Benevolent Association, which on Monday tweeted: “Mayor DeBlasio, the members of the NYPD are declaring war on you! We do not respect you, DO NOT visit us in hospitals. You sold the NYPD to the vile creatures, the 1% who hate cops but vote for you. NYPD cops have been assassinated because of you. This isn’t over, Game on!”
Freddi Goldstein, the mayor’s spokeswoman, called the comments “absolutely reprehensible.”
Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, condemned the attack on the officers. She said there were also concerns about Shea’s words.
“Implying without any basis in fact that protesters or protest slogans are responsible for these attacks is irresponsible and needlessly polarizing,” she said.
Associated Press writer Deepti Hajela contributed to this report.