October 11, 2012

Ithaca Police Chief Details Events Surrounding Shooting of Officer in West Hill

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At about 11 p.m. Thursday, the time of night his patrol shift would typically end, Ithaca Police officer Anthony Augustine was instead running through the woods in pursuit of a suspect. Moments later, as he emerged from the wooded area, he was struck by a single bullet that pierced the left side of his chest — striking him just inches outside of his bulletproof vest.

Augustine was shot in the West Hill area of the city, near the West Village Apartments complex, while pursuing a suspected car thief, later identified as Jamel Booker, 22, an Ithaca resident. Augustine is recovering from his injuries at a hospital in Syracuse; Booker is in police custody and faces multiple charges.

At a press conference Friday afternoon, Ithaca Police Chief Ed Vallely gave a detailed account of the chain of events that occurred late Thursday night and into Friday morning. His outline of the evening paints a clearer picture of a crime that has captivated residents of the city.

At 10:17 p.m. Thursday, police responded to a report that a vehicle was stolen out of a driveway on South Plain Street. Augustine, the responding officer, began searching for the vehicle on the west side of the city.

Less than an hour later, Augustine — still patrolling the streets at the tail end of his 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift — spotted the stolen 2002 Toyota Camry driving along West State Street. He attempted to pull the vehicle over on nearby Elm Street.

The driver, later identified as Booker, reportedly refused to stop, speeding up and leading Augustine to engage in a slow car chase. Augustine called for backup, and a fellow IPD officer soon joined the pursuit.

Approaching Elmcrest Circle, Booker abruptly fled the vehicle on foot and ran into a nearby wooded area. Augustine and the other pursuing officer called for Booker to stop, chasing him into the woods.

There, the two officers’ paths diverged: Augustine followed Booker along one trail, while the second officer followed another path in an attempt to cut Booker off.

Augustine caught up to Booker just as the two emerged from the woods. Booker reportedly turned back toward Augustine, lifted a handgun, and fired one shot, according to Vallely’s report.

The bullet struck Augustine in his upper left chest area — just shy of the bulletproof vest he was wearing. No shots were fired by police, Vallely said. Booker then escaped on foot to the nearby West Village Apartments complex.

Over the next few hours, dozens of emergency responders, including state troopers and two helicopters, swarmed the scene.

Augustine — who was conscious and alert after the shooting — gave police the description of Booker that facilitated his apprehension a few hours later. Augustine was then airlifted to a trauma center for emergency surgery.

Over the next few hours, aided by Augustine’s description and several tips from its anonymous tip line, police conducted a ground search for Booker with K-9 and air support, Vallely said.

At about 4:50 a.m. Friday morning, responding to a tip about Booker’s location, the Ithaca SWAT Team mobilized, secured the 600 block of Chestnut Street, and apprehended Booker at an apartment in the area. He was taken into custody without incident.

Augustine later identified Booker as the shooter.

Booker — who has a criminal record that includes 13 prior arrests, multiple convictions and an attempted murder charge — was arraigned Friday afternoon in Ithaca City Court on charges of aggravated assault of a police officer and criminal use of a weapon in the first degree.

Augustine underwent a second surgery Friday morning at a hospital in Syracuse. As of Friday evening, he was reported in stable condition and is expected to make a full recovery from his injuries, according to Mayor Svante Myrick ’09.

Officers at the press conference described him as being in “remarkably good spirits.”

Augustine, who is in his early 40s and has a wife and children, was a successful union electrician, working for several large companies in the Ithaca area before becoming an IPD officer five years ago, according to Vallely.

“He’s a very productive officer, he makes a lot of arrests. For lack of a better term, he’s a very aggressive police officer and he was out doing his job,” Vallely said.

IPD Deputy Chief Pete Tyler said the shooting of an officer in the line of duty can “affect the psyche” of other officers.

“They are asked to do a very difficult job and … [after the shooting] they’re already [back to] patrolling our streets and making them safer for our citizens,” Tyler said.

Deputy Chief John Barber added that the small size of the department affects the relationship between officers.

“We take this very personally … It’s like a small family. We know each other’s husbands, wives, kids, so on. So when one of our own takes a bullet, we come out of the woodwork to support that officer,” Barber said.

Myrick said he was impressed by the quick response of the IPD and other law enforcement agencies Thursday night and early Friday morning, and by the quick arrest of Booker.

“I hope it’s a message that anybody who attacks or who seeks to injure a member of the Ithaca Police Department will face the full brunt, the full weight, of our resources. We will move heaven and earth to get them, because if you threaten a police officer… you threaten all of us,” Myrick said.

Original Author: Rebecca Harris