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Plainclothes N.Y. officer shoots armed suspect during chase

By Sophia Chang

ROCKAWAY, NY — An armed suspect was shot dead by a plainclothes New York City police officer yesterday after the man aimed a loaded handgun at the officer during a foot chase through a quiet Rockaways neighborhood, authorities said.

It was the fourth police shooting of the year, and the second one that turned out to be fatal. Officers killed a Brooklyn man on New Year's Day when, they said, he pulled a gun on approaching narcotics officers.

In the latest shooting, Ronnie Smalls, 22, of Far Rockaway, was pronounced dead at 7:45 a.m. yesterday at Peninsula Hospital Center in Far Rockaway, according to police and a hospital spokeswoman.

Officials declined to identify the officer who fired the shots, a 24-year-old man with the 101st Precinct and three years on the force. He was treated for minor injuries at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center and released, authorities said.

Police said they are investigating the shooting in the Arverne section.

Early Saturday, the officer and two others from the 101st Precinct, all in plainclothes, were driving an unmarked car on routine patrol on Beach Channel Drive, police said.

Around 1:40 a.m., they saw Smalls and another man walking west between Beach 63rd and Beach 64th streets, Assistant Chief Michael Collins said.

One officer recognized Smalls, who was wanted by the 100th Precinct for a Nov. 23 gun possession incident, Collins said. Two officers then got out of the car to question Smalls. The driver turned on the siren in the unmarked car, Collins said.

After the officers identified themselves as police, displayed their shields and ordered the men to stop, Smalls began edging away, saying, "I'm not with him," Collins said.

Smalls took off and ran east on Beach Channel Drive, then north on Beach 63rd Street, with one officer chasing him on foot and another officer following in the car, Collins said.

He added that witnesses later told police they heard the officers yelling at Smalls to stop running. Police declined to identify the witnesses.

The officer in the car said he saw Smalls reach into the back of his waistband and pull out a handgun, police said. Smalls then fell to the ground - either by tripping or because he was tackled by the officer chasing him, according to the officer driving the police car.

That officer also reported that he then heard a series of shots, Collins said.

The officer on foot shot his gun four times, hitting Smalls at least twice in the head and the leg, Collins said. The gun that Smalls pulled from his waistband, a Beretta .380 semiautomatic, was cocked and loaded with one bullet in the chamber and five in the clip, police said.

It was unclear yesterday whether Smalls had fired, Collins said, adding that the gun had been reported stolen in a Nov. 26 burglary in Maine.

Police are looking for the other man, who fled during the gunfire, Collins said.

Smalls' father, Reginald Smalls, questioned whether the shooting was justified.

"From what I see, he was brutally beaten and shot," he told 1010 WINS radio.

Ronnie Smalls had been arrested nine times, according to police records. He was charged with attempted murder in a gang-related incident last July, according to police.

Smalls, of the Dayton Towers at 7600 Shore Front Pkwy., was due in State Supreme Court in Queens on Jan. 14 for a number of charges, including criminal possession of a weapon, according to court documents.

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