IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Suspected killer in death of NYPD officers had long, troubled past

New details released in the execution-style killing of two New York City police officers reveal a suspected killer with a long, troubled history of arrests,
The scene at a shooting where two New York City police officers were killed execution style as they sat in their marked police car on a Brooklyn street corner on Dec. 20, 2014. (Spencer Platt/Getty)
The scene at a shooting where two New York City police officers were killed execution style as they sat in their marked police car on a Brooklyn street corner on Dec. 20, 2014.

New details released in the execution-style killing of two New York City police officers reveal a suspected killer with a long, troubled history of arrests, incarceration and family estrangement.

According to police, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, the suspect in Saturday’s double homicide in Brooklyn, had a rap sheet that included 19 arrests in two states over the past decade for robbery and gun possession and served a two-year stint in a Georgia prison.

Brinsley’s family told police that he had a traumatic childhood and for years has been estranged from his family. The family told investigators that he may have had some undiagnosed emotional or mental issues and had as recently as last year attempted to hang himself, according to NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce during a press conference on Sunday afternoon.

Related: Brown, Garner cases ‘exploited’ in NYPD officer deaths

Boyce said that Brinsley had no prior history of violent crimes. But that all changed early on Saturday morning around 5 a.m. ET when Brinsley got into his ex-girlfriend’s Baltimore County, Maryland apartment with a key he shouldn’t have had, shot her once and fled on a Bolt Bus headed to New York City.

While en route to New York, Brinsley called his ex-girlfriend’s mother and told her he shot the woman by accident and that he hoped she’d survive. Police say the woman, who’d known Brinsley for about a year, confronted him about being in her home. And that’s when he shot her. When he left her apartment, with her bleeding from a single gunshot wound, Brinsley stole the woman’s iPhone. She ultimately did survive. Police say he accessed his social media accounts from her phone, in which he allegedly posted rants on Instagram in which he proclaimed plans to “put wings on pigs,” in other words, kill police.

In the following hours, Brinsley would catch a subway train in Manhattan to Brooklyn. Boyce said there appears to be a more than two-hour gap in time in which they’ve been unable to track Brinsley’s movements.

In the end, Brinsley’s path would end along what may very well have been a familiar neighborhood. Brinsley was born in Brooklyn, attended high school in New Jersey. He has family in Brooklyn and the Bronx and fathered a child with a woman who lives in Brooklyn.

Boyce said that at 2:46 p.m., about a minute before the shooting, a fax from Baltimore County police had made it to a NYPD stationhouse with details about Brinsley and about the shooting he’d committed earlier in the day.

About the same time, Boyce said Brinsley stopped two men outside of a public housing project along Tompkins Avenue. Brinsley asked the men if they had any gang affiliation, told them to follow him on social media and said finally, “watch what I’m going to do.”

Police said Brinsley then walked down Tompkins passed the patrol car where  officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were sitting. Boyce said Brinsley then circled back, set upon the officers and opened fire, squeezing off four shots.

Among the 10 eyewitnesses and 35 ear witnesses to the shooting were a pair of ConEdison workers who Boyce said saw what happened and chased Brinsley in their truck. After the shooting Brinsley ran down into a subway station where he shot and killed himself.

In all, Boyce said Brinsley fired six shots on Saturday, one at his ex-girlfriend, four at the officers in Brooklyn and finally one at himself.

Related: Cops turn their backs on NYC mayor 

Boyce said investigators are still searching for evidence that might paint a clearer picture of what may have motivated the violence Brinsley perpetrated. Detectives are actively scouring Brinsley’s social media accounts, the most active of which was his Instagram account, in which he allegedly posted a photo of the gun he used in the shootings, ranted about killing cops and in earlier posts burned an American flag and at times expressed anti-government and anti-police rhetoric.

Brinsley has listed addresses in New York and Georgia and that he seemed to travel frequently between the two states. Most of his troubles stem from incidents in Georgia though, according to police.

Much has been made about references Brinsley allegedly made to Eric Garner and Michael Brown Jr., both of whom were killed by police this summer and both of whose killers were not indicted by grand jury’s, the former on Staten Island and the latter in Ferguson, Missouri.

Investigators are currently trying to determine if Brinsley in fact attended any of the many protests across the country calling for justice in their deaths.

President Obama from his vacation in Hawaii called New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton to offer condolences and help the NYPD. Obama said the administration will work with leaders across the country to echo that message, according to White House spokesman Eric Schultz.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, speaking from outside Officer Ramos' house, said "I think cops and their families are afraid of their lives every day … I don't believe this is an overstatement. They represent me, they represent you. They are putting their lives at risk."

"The two police officers, its just unimaginable, there were no words, I was sitting with the family, there were looking at me, there are going to be some words, some wisdom.. his son said to me, why, why is my dad gone, what did my dad do wrong, and the truth is his father do nothing wrong," Cuomo said.

The family of Officer Ramos spoke out Sunday evening at a press conference, calling for cooperation and healing and thanking supporters. "I hope and pray we can reflect on this tragic loss of the lives that have occurred so we can move forward and find an amicable path to a peaceful co-existance. we would like to extend our condolences to the Liu family also," Ramos' aunt said in Brooklyn.

In the aftermath of the shooting, police and their supporters have blamed the overwhelmingly peaceful protest movements sparked by the grand jury decisions in the Brown and Garner cases for spurring Saturday’s killings. As the city mourns what can only be described as the senseless killings of the officers, protesters and protests leaders have decried the loose connection between the protests and the killings as divisive, irresponsible and dangerous.

The Police Benevolent Association put out a statement after the killings saying they mayor’s hands are “dripping with our blood because of his words, actions and policies” and that the department has “for the first time in a number of years, become a ‘wartime’ police department.”

Saturday’s shooting came amid heightened tensions in the city and across the country following the decisions by grand juries in New York and Ferguson, Missouri not to indict police officers responsible for the deaths of Garner and Brown, both unarmed black men. Last week, two officers were assaulted and hospitalized by protesters near the Brooklyn Bridge, police said, during a largely peaceful protest that drew more than 25,000 people demonstrating against police violence. Three people have been arrested in connection with the incident.

De Blasio had angered many police by offering support for the protestors and by suggesting publicly his teenage son Dante, who is biracial, could have something to fear in his encounters with law enforcement. De Blasio draws his strongest political support from black voters, many of whom felt unfairly targeted by what they viewed as heavy handed policing practices under de Blasio’s predecessor, Mike Bloomberg.  

In a message to the men and women of the NYPD on Sunday, Bratton wrote that the flags would be at half-mast to honor the two officers killed. “They were assassinated—targeted for their uniform, and for the responsibility they embraced: to keep the people of this city safe,” he said in the statement.