NY cop’s ear shot off during traffic stop; suspect dead

Officer Joseph Acquino is out of surgery and is listed in fair condition

By Lou Michel and Matt Gryta
The Buffalo News

BUFFALO, N.Y. — A Buffalo police officer was shot and the suspect was shot dead by a second police officer late Sunday afternoon in Black Rock, Buffalo police said.

Officer Joseph Acquino was shot in the ear, but was taken to Erie County Medical Center and is expected to live, police sources told The Buffalo News. The officer was undergoing surgery Sunday night.

Officer Joseph Acquino (Photo/Buffalo Police Department) Officer Joseph Acquino (Photo/Buffalo Police Department)

The suspect, who was shot in the arm and shoulder by a second officer, was taken to Kenmore Mercy Hospital. Two police sources told The Buffalo News at about 7 p.m. that the suspect was dead and police Lt. Jeff Rinaldo confirmed that an hour later at a news conference.

The suspect was shot by Acquino’s partner, Officer Justin Tedesco, according to police sources.

Rinaldo and police spokesman Michael J. DeGeorge would not identify the officer who was shot, the officer who shot the suspect or the suspect at an 8 p.m. news conference.

The officer who fired the shot is also at ECMC being evaluated, Rinaldo said.

The incident occurred at around 5 p.m. Sunday at Garfield Street and Hartman Place in Buffalo’s Black Rock neighborhood.

Rinaldo said the incident started with what should have been a routine traffic stop, but then the suspect began struggling with officers.

“It started during a traffic stop. The officer was fighting with the individual and the individual shot the officer,” a police source told The Buffalo News. “The suspect was shot and ran several blocks and was apprehended without incident.”

“The investigation is ongoing. The officers will be placed on administrative leave,” Rinaldo said, noting that is routine procedure.

A vigil was held at the corner of Hertel and Tonawanda streets Sunday night to support the officers.

A woman who witnessed the shooting, Liz Brennan of Buffalo, talked with Mary Friona-Celani, a freelancer who writes for The Buffalo News and writes the Totally Buffalo blog. Brennan was interviewed by police about the shooting, Friona-Celani said.

Here’s what Friona-Celani wrote on her blog about Brennan, who was in a car passing by the incident:

It all happened in the Black Rock section of Buffalo. Liz Brennan said she saw a man wresting with two Buffalo Police officers. “The cops were trying to restrain him, trying to get him to the ground but he wouldn’t go down. He refused to go down. He was moving erratically, and wouldn’t go down and eventually broke away. We did not see the officer get shot, we just saw his ear hanging, we don’t understand how we missed that. All of a sudden his ear was hit. He was hit. I couldn’t believe it.”

She went on to say what happened next, “One police officer stood up, was screaming help me, help me. His ear was hanging on by a thread. He was screaming and yelling. The other officer got on his one knee and fired two shots, he missed and put his gun away and started chasing him … We did see the officer get down and shoot twice as the man was running. It was awful. The officer was three feet from our car. He was saying, ‘Oh my God I’m shot.’ It was the scariest thing I’ve ever seen in my life. The man started to run, he ran through a few yards on Peoria Street at Garfield. There was a witness on scene, a nurse, who was helping the police officer. Then all of a sudden, there were a lot of people helping the police officer.”

Brennan said, “I’m pregnant and the only thing I was thinking was that I could get shot. That and the fact that the officer was shot.”

Acquino is the first Buffalo police officer shot while on duty since Dec. 5, 2006, when Officer Patty Parete and her partner, Carl Andolina, were wounded at West Chippewa Street and Whitney Place, Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda confirmed. Parete, who was left paralyzed, died Feb. 2, 2013 at age 48.

Acquino is a police officer assigned to the housing unit, according to police sources. He comes from a family of Buffalo police officers. The officer’s father is retired Officer Michael Acquino and his brother, also named Michael, is a Buffalo police officer.

Friday night, the Buffalo Police union gave Joseph Acquino an award for heroism.

Acquino and Officers Anthony Fanara and Bradford Pitts received the Police Benevolent Association Heroism Award for their arrest of an armed robbery suspect in 2016. During the arrest the suspect pressed his handgun into Fanara’s chest and pulled the trigger. But the safety was on. Pitts and Acquino disarmed the suspect, who later pleaded guilty to attempted murder and is serving a 19-year prison sentence.

In Sunday’s incident, police sources said the suspect had been alone in a vehicle before the shooting. Afterward, a large amount of drugs were recovered in the suspect’s vehicle, the sources said.

Rinaldo declined to say if the suspect had drugs on him when he was stopped by police.

When contacted Sunday, Buffalo Police Benevolent Association attorney Thomas Burton said he did not believe the state Attorney General’s Office would have jurisdiction to take over the investigation into Sunday’s shooting from the Erie County district attorney.

“If they are looking at it, this would be outside their jurisdiction according to the governor’s executive order,” Burton said. “That order only addresses (the attorney general investigating) unarmed citizens who die as the result of police conduct. Here, the officer was shot. So someone here was obviously armed.”

Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda, Mayor Byron W. Brown and Deputy Police Commissioner Byron Lockwood and other top officials were at ECMC with the injured officer on Sunday night, DeGeorge said.

Copyright 2017 The Buffalo News (Buffalo, N.Y.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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