Tougher penalties urged after second NYPD loss

Josh Getlin, Times Staff Writer

Copyright 2005 Los Angeles Times
All Rights Reserved 

For the second time in eight days, New York mourned a police officer shot to death in the line of duty.

Thousands of officers gathered Wednesday in tribute to Daniel Enchautegui, killed early Saturday when he confronted two men in the Bronx during an apparent burglary. As his family members grieved in church, officials spoke of heroism and the city's sorrow.

Last week, it was officer Dillon Stewart who was honored and mourned. He was slain in Brooklyn while chasing a motorist who had driven through a red light.

There were eerie similarities to both killings: Enchautegui, 28, and Stewart, 35, were shot in the heart. Both kept firing at suspects and wounded them before dying.

They are the only New York police officers to be killed in the line of duty this year; nine have been shot, the highest number since 2000.

"It is almost too hard to believe, almost too much to bear for the second time in a little more than a week," said New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, addressing an audience Wednesday at St. John's Chrysostom Church. "We're talking about the senseless murder of a valiant officer. The entire city takes this loss very deeply."

The deaths of Enchautegui and Stewart have sparked angry calls for the Legislature to impose stiffer penalties on those who shoot or kill police officers. New York law does not provide for the death penalty, and Patrick Lynch, who heads the Policemen's Benevolent Assn., said it was time to pass such a measure.

"How many more police deaths will it take to get this law on the books?" he asked, hurrying into the church for Enchautegui's service.

"We need to make it clear that if someone lifts even a finger against a police officer, their life could be on the line."

As he waited outside the church, flanked by thousands of other officers standing 10 deep in the streets, Steven Watt said the two deaths shocked many people.

"You get up in the morning and you realize it could be you who's in danger the next time," he said. "These two officers died under very tragic circumstances."

On Wednesday, Enchautegui was remembered as a hard-working cop and a man devoted to the care of his aging parents, who lived near him in the Bronx. Friends recalled an easygoing patrolman who read political thrillers, watched "The Simpsons" religiously and never stopped saying how lucky he was to have joined the New York Police Department.

The furor over his death was heightened by the fact that one of the two suspects, Lillo Brancato Jr., played a leading role in the 1993 movie "A Bronx Tale" and other films, and appeared during the second season of "The Sopranos" on HBO.

Police said Brancato, 29, has had several run-ins with the law, including arrests on drug possession and criminal mischief charges. They said the other suspect, Steven Armento, had a long criminal record.

Investigating officers said the two suspects broke into the house next door to Enchautegui's about 5 a.m. Saturday. He was awakened by the sound of broken glass, police said.

The officer, who was off duty, dialed 911 and radioed for backup, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said during Wednesday's funeral. The officer put on his police badge, went outside and confronted the two men in front of the apartment, identifying himself twice as an officer. Then he was shot, Kelly said.

"Despite being struck in the chest and severely wounded, Danny refused to go down without a fight," the commissioner said. "It is an act that defies belief. He returned fire and couldn't miss. Emptying his pistol, he found his mark, striking his assailants a total of seven times."

Both suspects are scheduled to be arraigned today in their hospital beds at Jacobi Medical Center. The Bronx district attorney is planning to charge Armento with first- and second-degree murder and Brancato with second-degree murder, a spokesman said.

Officer Stewart was shot Nov. 28 as he and his partner pursued a motorist who had run through a red light. Police said one of the bullets allegedly fired by Allen Cameron struck Stewart in the heart, just missing the officer's bulletproof vest.

Although he had been shot, police said Stewart continued to pursue Cameron on a high-speed chase. He followed the suspect to a garage, where other police opened fire. It was only then, police said, that Stewart realized he had been hit. He died later that day, despite efforts to revive him at a nearby hospital.

Cameron, who police said had a long criminal record, has been charged with first- and second-degree murder. Police said he was being investigated in the Nov. 19 shooting and wounding of off-duty New York Police Officer Wiener Philippe. On Tuesday, Cameron pleaded not guilty.

More than 20,000 police officers -- some from as far as Hawaii -- gathered for Stewart's funeral last week. He was a married father of two. Family members wept as they were led into services at New Life Tabernacle Church.

Friends recalled a quiet, generous man who quit his job as a financial accountant to tackle a new career with the New York Police Department.

Kelly spoke before an overflow audience. He saluted the policeman's courage, consoled his family and tried to make sense of a senseless death.

"Despite having been mortally wounded himself, Dillon summoned the courage and superhuman discipline to stay on his killer's trail," Kelly told the mourners. "It is nearly impossible to comprehend. He was shot at five times.... It is something to behold."
December 15, 2005

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