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Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Holds Brief Media Availability on Crown Heights Incident with Commissioner Bratton

December 9, 2014

Mayor Bill de Blasio: So I want to start by saying our thoughts and prayers are with the Rosenblatt family. We obviously are deeply – feeling deeply what that family is going through now and wishing for a speedy recovery for Mr. Rosenblatt.

And I want members of the Crown Heights community, and the Jewish community broadly all over the city, to know that we are taking additional security measures to make sure that the Jewish community institutions are safe. This is something that the NYPD has done consistently and effectively for years, wherever there is any incident that might cause concern. So I want to reassure the Jewish New Yorkers that those precautions are being put into place, and NYPD is doing a very thorough job and devoting serious resources to make sure the community is protected in Crown Heights and beyond.

The incident this morning, although it's under investigation – we still have a lot more in the way of details that we need. It seems quite clear that a serious mental health problem played a role. This individual was an emotionally disturbed person. And we are going to be increasingly focused on the kind of mental health efforts that will help reach people earlier and better, to try and keep them away from a situation where they may end up involved with law enforcement. A lot of our citizens need help – and they need it earlier. And we are going to endeavor to do that to avoid tragedies like this.

I think something all New Yorkers should be proud of today is the way the NYPD handled this incident. In the dead of night, something absolutely unexpected – the responding officers handled things, from everything we've seen so far – again, there is an investigation, but I'm going to speak as someone who's seen the video and just offering my own common-sense assessment – the officers responded with great restraint. They made every effort to try to disarm the individual. And, they – in the work they did so courageously – protected lives. This individual had already assaulted Mr. Rosenblatt – may have caused much more damage to others. Lives were at stake, and these officers – with courage and skill and restraint – handled the situation very admirably. With that, I would like to turn to our police commissioner to commend you, the men and the women of the NYPD, for how this was handled today.

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton: Thank you, Mr. Mayor. Good afternoon. I am joined by our Chief of Detectives Bob Boyce, who you are familiar with. Bob is, along with, our Internal Affairs Bureau – been leading the investigation.

Preliminarily, that – as I have now had the opportunity to review the several tapes that we have, I’ve had briefings by Internal Affairs and Chief Boyce – I am very comfortable that this incident this morning, this tragic event – that the three officers involved behaved in an admirable way. They are to be commended, particularly two of the three officers who were most at risk during the incident. There will be a full investigation that – certainly the District Attorney will review it also, but I am very comfortable that going forward, that the actions of the officers are more than justified based on the dangers that they, and seven other individuals faced in that basement of that building.

The videos – well one of them anyway, is out on YouTube – clearly displays the dangers they were engaged in. There is a clear indication that the subject, who is now deceased, placed his knife on the table, and as one of the officers approached him, holstered his weapon, began the process of handcuffing the individual. The individual – the suspect, once again – grabbed the knife and, once again, threatened the officer. In the ensuing conflict, the suspect was shot and killed. One shot, at very close range – we estimate the officer was within three to five feet of the suspect as he was coming at him with the knife and the officer was backing up. So again, at this stage in the investigation, even though it's very early on, I'm quite comfortable commending the actions of the officers.

The three officers involved – the shooting officer is Police Officer Roberto Pagan. He is 29 years of age. He has been with the department for six years. He is assigned to the 71 Precinct – no prior firearm discharge. The initial officer that is viewed on the YouTube video tape is Police Officer Timothy Donohue – 25 years of age, three years with the department, also assigned to the 71 Precinct. That officer was the officer assigned to the security detail in the mobile headquarters that's parked in front of that building. The third officer was the partner of the shooting officer. They are the two officers who responded in the RMP. That's Police Officer Kevin Hanna. He's 29 years of age, with eight years on the department.

Myself and Chief Boyce are available to answer questions relative to the event itself. Certainly, I want to thank the mayor for his appropriate commendation of the officers involved in this incident – that it could have been much more tragic. One individual was significantly injured in an unprovoked attack, seven other individuals threatened by the suspect throughout the course of this attack. Again, we will be available for whatever questions you might have.

Question: Commissioner, Commissioner!

Mayor: This topic only – let's be clear, on this topic only.

Question: Do we know, that the last 24 hours, sort of what this man's life was like? What sort of –?

Commissioner Bratton: Our understanding is – based on the preliminary investigation – is that he had visited this facility on two prior occasions on the evening before the morning of the shooting. Chief Boyce has those details, but based on our preliminary investigation, the individual seems to have had a significant set of emotional circumstances, over the course of a number of years, and that certainly – we believe – probably contributed to the incident. I would point out that the department responds every year to about 130,000 EDP incidents, as we describe them. That's Emotionally Disturbed Person types of calls. Very few of them end in this type of situation. Almost all of them never draw your attention because they end well. So it's a situation the department handles very well almost all the time, but unfortunately, as it was the case in this circumstance, sometimes that we are not able to resolve it with the successful resolution of a life is not taken.

Question: Are you curtailing the access so that [inaudible] in the wake of this attack?

Commissioner Bratton: That would be really up to the leadership of the Liebovich. We will continue our security. Commissioner Miller, immediately upon this incident occurring – we had already been on a heightened alert based on incidents happening in Israel – and so, the Counter Terrorism Bureau and Intelligence Bureau run by Commission Miller watch very closely, both international events and events here. We are still providing additional coverage to many of the Jewish synagogues, and significant points of interest in the city, and will continue to do so into the foreseeable future.

Question: Do you think –

Question: Was he allowed to go on in without being checked?

Commissioner Bratton: He was allowed to enter the building unimpeded on all three occasions. The two previous occasions, he had been escorted from the building, gently, but he again returned this morning around 1:40 in the morning. I'd emphasize the totality of this event would appear to have been under three minutes. A large part of it was covered on the video that was captured by one of the seven witnesses in the basement of the building.

Question: [inaudible] What is Mr. Rosenblat's condition?

Commissioner Bratton: I'm sorry?

Question: What is Mr. Rosenblat's condition currently?

Commissioner Bratton: I believe they are asking the condition of the young man, Mr. Mayor.

Mayor: At this moment, the last report we've received is he is in stable but serious condition at Bellevue Hospital – which is obviously a facility that's very, very capable of handling this kind of wound. So, serious but stable.

Question: For the mayor, what specifically about the officer’s conduct makes you say that this was an admirable action? Then secondly, does the suspect have any history of interactions with city government in terms of –?

Mayor: I'll just speak to the first, and then commissioner and chief can speak to the second. Again, this is preliminary information we've received, and this is based on the video tape we've seen so far. I'm speaking as a citizen. I'm not a law enforcement professional, but what I saw was repeated efforts being made by the officers to get the individual to drop his knife. This is someone who had already stabbed one of the congregants, so unfortunately had already proven his capacity for violence and yet the officers tried repeatedly to get him to put down his knife. He finally does put down his knife, the officer holsters his gun, approaches with handcuffs, and the perpetrator picks up the knife again at the very last moment – and yet still the officers pull back, and attempt once again to peacefully resolve the situation. That's an extraordinary level of restraint. These are officers who are using their training and implementing their training in an incredibly professional manner. And had the perpetrator cooperated at any point along the way the outcome would have been different. I think the professionalism, the courage, the restraint were admirable.

Question: A witnesses at the scene said that there was-

Mayor: Wait, wait, the second question.

Commissioner Bratton: In reference to the second question, I'll ask Chief Boyce to speak to some of the circumstances of his background.

NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce: Mr. Peters, Cal Peters, what's emerging right now is some psychological issues with him in the past. Four times in 2001 and 2002, he was removed as an Emotionally Disturbed Person from the street. He also, when speaking to family members, has been undergoing some hard times. That day, he was supposed to see a doctor, a psychologist, out in Nassau County. He hadn't done that, we spoke to the family members who said he's been under some stress right now. He is out on Social Security right now because of his physiological issues. That's what we have right now. He has been arrested 19 times. He has not been arrested since 2006, however we have not seen any kind of violence, any kind of hate crimes from him before this incident.

Question: Are you going to characterize this as a hate crime?

Chief Boyce: No, not at all.

Commissioner Bratton: No, not at all. We're looking to see if it was, right now, there's nothing to suggest that. We went to his social media, and his Facebook account. It's not there. There's nothing to suggest there's ever prior [inaudible]

Question: There's some questions about him having a bipolar disorder, have you guys heard that at all?

Chief Boyce: Still working with the – talked to the family about that, he has not taken any meds at all. He was diagnosed as that 10 years ago. He hasn't been on meds in 10 years.

Mayor: I just want to clarify. That from everything we've seen, this is someone who's very much needed consistent medication and wasn't taking his meds. This is another example of the mental health challenges we face. We need, in every way we can, to make sure people get the treatment they need, take their medications because sometimes when that treatment isn't there, or there isn't an adherence to medication, we see the violent situations like this occur, and it's left to the NYPD to have to deal with very adverse circumstances.

Question: For both the commissioner and the mayor, do you think if the $35 million  re-training order had already been in place, that things would have turned out differently today?

Mayor: The which?

Question: If the re-training order had already been in place for the officers, do you think that things would have turned out differently today?

Commissioner Bratton: Not at all. The training doesn't – the in-service training we're providing does not speak to this specific type of incident. The officers relied on the training they already received and they did an admirable job. As the mayor indicated, they kept attempting to back away when approached by him – and to the extent that one officer actually holstered his weapon and began to move toward the suspect. The suspect then took the knife off the table, which is all captured in the YouTube video, and then began going after the officer. Once again, the officer kept retreating and trying to talk him down and unfortunately it did not work out.

Mayor: Let me clarify that the mental health training that we're providing in terms of NYPD is one piece of a number of parts of our plan. We want to try and address mental health issues as early as we can, whenever we come in contact with an individual or family facing these challenges. Even to the point of trying to reach our public school students, literally early in their lives as part of what the community school's program will allow – mental health services in public schools, services that family's can access as well. We also, as you know – in terms of what we're trying to do with the corrections department – are trying to reach a lot of individuals with mental health challenges before they end up in the correctional system. The training to help police deal with individuals with mental health challenges is one part of the puzzle, but really, a lot of what we're aiming at is trying to get at the root causes, trying to reach people before these challenges manifest in such a tragic manner.

Unknown: Two more questions, two more.

Question: Commissioner, is there any precedent when an officer's dealing with an EDP to reach for the taser first before the gun?

Commissioner Bratton: The mayor and I, ironically, have had several discussions about tasers. Our re-engineering committees that have been working this past year are recommending a significant expansion of the numbers of them. Currently they're only assigned to patrol sergeants. During the course of this event, the sergeant had not yet arrived. So I'm proposing to the mayor that as part of the field-training officer program – that we are developing for the officers that will be working with our recruits coming out of the academy – that we equip them with tasers as an initial expansion of the number of them out in the field.

Question: How does an officer even make that distinction between when to go for the gun, when to go for the taser?

Commissioner Bratton: That's where the training comes into place, that there's a whole escalation of force, a set of protocols that they would seek to follow, if the time and circumstances allowed. A taser would be one of those that's in the protocol for a sergeant, but I'm hoping that the mayor and I are able to find the funding to allow for that expansion.

Unknown: Last one. [inaudible] your question.

Question: How many tasers are there currently out there? How many tasers would you like to see?

Commissioner Bratton: That – my understanding is that we try to equip all of the patrol sergeants in the 77 precincts, PSAs in our transit districts. So at any given time on the street, considering the number of supervisors, probably not more than several hundred at any given time. What we're talking about would be, initially, about 450 field-training officers we're going to seek to start fielding after the first of the year. So again, it's a budget issue and it's also a training issue, but that's a direction I would like to move in.

Unknown: Thank you all. Thanks. [inaudible]

Question: A witness on the scene said that there was a delayed reaction by the police?

Unknown: [inaudible] Thank you.

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