One Police Plaza

A Cop's Life: Reminders of Danger

August 14, 2017

Two incidents last week — one out of the past, the other frighteningly current — remind us that the life of a cop is a precarious one.

On Friday, NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Legal Matters Larry Byrne presented his family’s victim-impact statement opposing parole for Philip Copeland. He is one of four men convicted of assassinating his brother, Officer Edward Byrne, in South Jamaica on Feb. 26, 1988.

Officer Byrne, then 22, had been assigned to guard the home of a man known as “Arjune,” a witness in a drug case. His execution was ordered from jail by drug kingpin Howard “Pappy” Mason. The four assassins — David McClary, Scott Cobb, Todd Scott and Copeland — shared $8,000 for the killing. They bragged to others about their crime, leading to their arrest a few days later.

Had the killers been convicted of assassinating a police officer under today’s laws, which were passed after Byrne’s assassination, they would have been sentenced to life without parole. Instead, they were sentenced to 25 years to life and, since 2012, come up for parole every two years.

In a telephone interview Larry Byrne said, “Copeland was the mastermind and ringleader. He gave a false alibi and has never shown remorse. At his sentencing he announced to the courtroom ‘I’ll be back.’”

In 2012, said Byrne, the presiding judge, Thomas Demakos, wrote to the Parole Board that the board should never parole him.

A formal hearing for Copeland is scheduled for November.

The second incident involves the shooting last week of NYPD Officer Hart Nguyen, who was possibly saved by his bullet-proof vest. The shooter was Andy Sookdeo, a man with “a history of psychological issues,” in the words of Police Commissioner Jimmy O’Neill. An argument with his father turned violent. His mother called 911, saying her son was unarmed and non-violent, but off his meds.

When police arrived, she told them her son was in a back room. He then came out blazing. He fired several shots at Nguyen, two of which were stopped by his vest. Another bullet struck him in the arm. Sookdeo then barricaded himself in his bedroom and committed suicide, police said, adding that two guns were found there and plenty of ammo.

NYPD spokesman Steve Davis said the department handles 156,000 cases involving emotionally disturbed people a year. “When cops arrive, they never know what to expect,” he said.

In an editorial, the NY Post went full bore in making out the problem was the mentally ill. It attacked the city and state “for failing to get seriously mentally ill people the help they need before they become dangerous.”

It also noted “the unreasonable reliance on the NYPD to handle things when they reach crisis level.”

True enough. But the Post ignored an equally important question: where and how did Sookdeo obtain his guns and ammo. Did he or a family member have a gun permit?

Said Davis in an email:“No permits....still tracing origin of the guns.”


Copyright © 2017 Leonard Levitt