01/30/2006

To catch assailants, NY police show video of 5 men beating officer

BY LUIS PEREZ. STAFF WRITER; Staff writers Rocco Parascandola and Matt Friedman contributed to this story.

Copyright 2006 Newsday, Inc. 

As the Bronx off-duty cop mistakenly shot by a fellow patrolman underwent a second round of surgery yesterday, officials released a video of a brutal beating the officer took moments before the shooting.

The beating of police officer Eric Hernandez, 24 - captured by three surveillance cameras inside the White Castle fast-food restaurant in the Tremont section early Saturday - shows five young men pummeling him so badly he could only crawl out through a door when it was over.

Police released the tape to news media outlets yesterday in the hope that it would elicit tips leading them to the suspects, all of whom are still at large, police officials said. Authorities urged anonymous callers to contact them at 800-577-TIPS.

Officials also suggested that footage of the minute-long attack shows that Hernandez was hurt so badly that his ability to hear the warning shouts of Police Officer Alfredo Toro - who found Hernandez, in civilian clothing, pointing a gun at a man's head - might have been impaired, said Paul Browne, the department's chief spokesman.

"There is some question of whether his ability [to hear the officer] was compromised by the injuries inflicted in the assault - because he was hit and kicked in the head," Browne said.

Also, Hernandez' blood alcohol level was more than .10 - another factor that may have affected his judgment, according to a police source. Hernandez was dropped off at the White Castle at 1831 Webster Ave. by a family member he had been drinking with earlier, the source said.

Police said that more than one witness heard Toro scream: "Drop the weapon!" before firing three shots at Hernandez.

Hernandez was still in "grave condition" at St. Barnabas Hospital yesterday, police said. He was shot once in each leg and once in the abdomen, with two of the bullets striking major arteries and causing massive blood loss, doctors said.

After undergoing surgery on Saturday, Hernandez, a 52nd Precinct cop for two years, was operated on again yesterday to remove part of his intestines, according to a fellow officer at the hospital said. A hundred pints of blood were also shipped in via helicopter to the hospital at 7 a.m. yesterday.

"He's a fighter," said Det. Edward Gardner, manager of the NYPD football team, where the 193-pound Hernandez starred as running back. "The family is trying to stay calm."

It was not clear whether Toro was questioned by department officials yesterday. But sources involved in the investigation said he will most likely not be disciplined for his actions and is not believed to have acted improperly.

On the restaurant security tape, which does not have sound, three of the five assailants enter at 4:40 a.m. - one in a blue sweater, another in a white polo shirt with red stripes, another wearing a white and black hat. A minute later, a man in a gray, hooded sweatshirt and black do-rag entered with another man in a large white T-shirt with a picture of a red stop sign on it.

They ordered food, sat down and walked in and out of the fast-food eatery for the next five minutes. At 4:50, Hernandez walked in.

He stopped with his back to the Plexiglas-encased counter, and appeared to drop his keys. At that point, the tape shows the man in the black and white hat saying something to Hernandez.

Soon, all six men are at the counter again, and, according to police, the man in the gray sweatshirt told Hernandez to pay for their sodas. The group of five men and Hernandez appear to be yelling at each other and trading angry hand gestures.

In minutes, he is surrounded by the five suspects, and the man in the gray sweatshirt strikes him first. Hernandez falls to the ground as the others join the beating.

At one point during the beating, one of the men pulls Hernandez' jacket over his head. When it is over, as Hernandez writhes in pain and struggles to crawl away, the man in the gray sweatshirt grabs the off-duty cop's hat and puts it on his own head.

At 4:58 a.m., in an exchange outside the restaurant that is not caught on tape, Hernandez confronts a young man who told Newsday he was trying to help the cop. Hernandez pointed the gun at his head.

Toro arrived and fired the shots. It was only after Hernandez arrived at the hospital that police officials found his badge, in his pocket.

Staff writers Rocco Parascandola and Matt Friedman contributed to this story. 

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