Officers slain in two weeks

2 N.Y.

`It is almost too hard to believe, almost too much to bear,' mayor says at funeral

December 15, 2005|By JOSH GETLIN | JOSH GETLIN,LOS ANGELES TIMES

NEW YORK -- 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 yesterday in tribute to Daniel Enchautegui, killed early Saturday when he confronted two men in the Bronx during an apparent burglary attempt.

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 killed 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 yesterday at St. John Chrysostum Church.

"We're talking about the senseless murder of a valiant officer. The entire city takes this loss very deeply."

The deaths of officers Enchautegui and Stewart have sparked angry calls for the state legislature to impose stiffer penalties on those who shoot or kill policemen.

New York law does not provide for the death penalty, and Patrick Lynch, who heads the Policeman's Benevolent Association, said it is 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."

Yesterday, 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 NYPD.

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

Police said Brancato 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.

According to investigating officers, the two suspects allegedly broke into the house next door to Enchautegui's about 5 a.m. on Dec. 10. He was awakened by the sound of breaking glass, police said.

The officer, who was off duty, dialed 911 and then radioed for backup assistance, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said during yesterday's funeral service.

The officer put on his police badge, went outside and confronted 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, Stewart continued to pursue Cameron on a high-speed chase, police said. 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 frantic efforts to revive him at a nearby hospital.

Cameron, who police said has a long criminal record, has been charged with first- and second-degree murder.

Police said he is also being investigated in the Nov. 19 shooting and wounding of off-duty New York police Officer Wiener Philippe. On Tuesday, Cameron pleaded not guilty at his arraignment.

More than 20,000 police officers - some from as far away as Hawaii - gathered for Stewart's funeral last week. He was the 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.

Once again, Kelly spoke before an overflow audience. He saluted a 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 audience. "It is nearly impossible to comprehend. He was shot at five times. ... It is something to behold."

Josh Getlin writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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