MINEOLA, N.Y. (AP) — A retired police detective is being hailed as a hero for engaging in what authorities called a “life-and-death struggle” to apprehend a robbery suspect at a crowded suburban shopping mall.
A bystander was wounded by a stray bullet from the suspect’s handgun as the retired New York Police Department officer, who was working as a security guard at a luxury watch store, wrestled the suspect to the ground. Another mall security guard who went to assist suffered a broken hand, police said.
The melee at the Roosevelt Field Mall on Long Island caused shoppers to flee in panic three days before Christmas, with the nation still jittery about mass shootings in San Bernardino, California, and in Paris. Police say several shoppers suffered minor injuries.
Oliver Lee, 21, of Queens, pleaded not guilty at his arraignment Wednesday on robbery, assault and weapons charges and was ordered held on $750,000 bail. A message left seeking comment from the attorney representing him wasn’t immediately returned.
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Nassau County officials said the bystander who was shot in the shoulder was expected to be released from the hospital Wednesday. They described him as a 67-year-old mall employee.
County Executive Edward Mangano and Acting Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter heaped praise on retired NYPD Detective Kenneth Krug, who confronted the suspect during the attempted robbery at the Rolex section of a Tourneau store at around 1 p.m. Tuesday.
“Kenneth Krug’s actions can only be described as heroic,” Krumpter said. “He was engaged in a life-and-death struggle.”
Police said Lee asked to see an $18,750 Rolex watch and was taken to a private viewing area. Once there, he displayed a handgun and attempted to flee with the watch, Krumpter said. Krug then confronted the suspect, and the two began to struggle for Lee’s weapon as he fought to flee, police said.
During the 90-second struggle, one shot from Lee’s weapon was discharged and hit the mall employee in the concourse. As the two grappled for the gun, they eventually exited the store and went out into the concourse. Two unarmed mall security guards helped Krug, and they finally wrestled the suspect to the ground near an adjacent store.
Krug declined to comment about the ordeal, explaining that he will have to testify before a grand jury regarding the case.
Police said the charges against Lee include criminal possession of a weapon because he was not licensed to carry a handgun. Krumpter said the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is assisting with the investigation into where the handgun came from.
Mangano said Lee posted a photo of the weapon on his Facebook page at some time before the attempted holdup, but no one apparently contacted authorities. The suspect also had about 10 painkiller pills in his possession when he was arrested, Krumpter said.
Krumpter called the response by stores and mall management to the incident “great” and noted that county police have held exercises with mall personnel on how to respond to a report of an active shooter. He said in the initial moments after the gunfire, 911 operators received 419 calls from worried shoppers and others.
He added that since the Paris attacks, police have deployed additional personnel to public places such as the mall as a precaution.
Associated Press writer Michael Balsamo contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to show Lee was arraigned Wednesday, not Thursday.