MINEOLA, N.Y (CBSNewYork/AP) — New questions have mounted about procedures used by a Nassau County police officer who responded to an armed robbery, and ended up firing the bullet that killed 21-year-old Hofstra University student Andrea Rebello.
As CBS 2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported Monday, experts said police radio transmissions may help determine what officers knew as they entered the off-campus home.
The officer who fired the shots has been identified as Nikolas Budimlic, a 19-year police veteran.
Rebello and the intruder, Dalton Smith, died early Friday when the officer fired eight shots, hitting him seven times, with one bullet striking Rebello once in the head, according to county homicide squad Lt. John Azzata.
With a gun pointed at her, Smith “kept saying, ‘I’m going to kill her,’ and then he pointed the gun at the police officer,” according to Azzata. The officer acted quickly, saying later that he believed his and Rebello’s life were in danger, according to authorities.
As of Monday, the Nassau County PBA said Officer Budimlic was “surrounded by family and friends who support him during this time of grief.”
Experts have said the chain of events this past Friday illustrates the difficulty police officers face when responding to calls involving armed gunmen.
The former head of the Nassau Bar Association also cautioned against second-guessing an impossible situation.
“Obviously, this officer was confronted with what was a life-threatening position,” said former Bar Association president Marc Gann. “I’m not in a position to second guess that. I don’t think anyone is at this point in time.”
John Jay College of Criminal Justice professor Michele Galietta said the officer was confronted with a split-second choice when the suspect was holding Andrea Rebello in a headlock pointed a loaded handgun at him.
“The big question is, how do you know, when someone’s pointing a gun at you, whether you should keep talking to them, or shoot?” said Galietta. “That’s what makes the job of an officer amazingly difficult.”
Jon Shane, a former NYPD captain, added that the guidelines for using deadly force are not as simple as some people realize.
“A police officer doesn’t have to allow someone to kill him or her before they can take action, that’s number one. It depends on the actions of the offender,” he said. “If the hostage taker standing there waving a gun and the police officer feels that the hostage is going to be killed, or an innocent third party is going to be killed or the officer is going to be killed — then they can respond with force.”
But Rebello’s godfather, Henrique Santos of Eastchester, told the Journal News he is angry about the shooting, and believes the officer should have negotiated instead of firing.
A collection of flowers and candles were growing on the stoop of the building where Rebello lived at 213 California Ave. in Uniondale. And the Nassau County police have launched an investigation of the standoff, with the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office monitoring.
Eugene O’Donnell, a former New York City police officer and professor of law and police studies at John Jay College, said the crucial issue may be whether or not police had deemed it a hostage situation. If so, he said, there are protocols police follow to buy time, slow down, isolate and assess.
Retired NYPD Capt. Edward Mamet, who is a consultant on police tactics, said if the officer knew there was a weapon and hostage involved he should have waited for hostage negotiators instead of going into the house.
“They have these little cameras that snake into the building to get an idea of what’s going on inside,” Mamet told 1010 WINS’ Mona Rivera. “They could isolate the telephone and establish communication. To go in on the blind is very dangerous.”
But O’Donnell said the officers may have had few options because of “an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation between the officer and the offender.”
But civil rights attorney Fred Brewington said it is important to review protocol in any friendly fire shooting.
“Whether or not protocol was followed, was he aware there was a gun and a hostage situation,” Brewington said.
But Anthony Kourtessis, the father of another Hofstra student who was in the house during the invasion, thanked the officer for his actions.
“The police officer saved my son’s life and I owe a great deal of gratitude to the gentleman,” he said.
Santos told the Journal News he wondered why eight shots were fired instead of one.
But none of the discussions alter the outcome. Rebello was shot in the head, and her twin sister escaped seconds earlier with her life.
Santos said Jessica Rebello now cries instead of sleeping. He said the twins did everything together.
And as for the 42-year-old officer himself, he is said to be inconsolable over Rebello’s death, according to a report in The New York Post.
“He blames himself and keeps replaying it in his mind,” a police source told the Post. “He is torn up about the poor girl.”
Nassau County PBA officials said the focus of the debate should be on why the perpetrator was free on parole. They planned to formally announce their support for Officer Budimlic at a news conference Tuesday.
Rebello’s devastated family is asking for privacy as they prepare for the slain college student’s funeral, which will be held Wednesday in Sleepy Hollow.
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