WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A New York City policeman pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges of attempted murder, assault and drunken driving after he allegedly opened fire on a car for no apparent reason.
Suspended Officer Brendan Cronin, 27, is accused of firing 14 shots at two unarmed men in a car at a Pelham intersection April 29. Cronin was off-duty.
Robert Borelli and his friend Joseph Felice were headed home from a hockey game at the time of the attack.
Felice was shot six times and nearly died. He is still recovering.
Borelli, who was not hit, attended Thursday’s arraignment.
“It was important that he see a face, because the only thing he’s ever seen of me is the back of my head,” said Borelli. “I want him to see this (pointing at his eyes) and that we are human beings.
“I keep thinking when I look at him what my mother and Mrs. Felice and my wife and Joe’s wife would’ve been thinking and feeling if they had to seal two coffins and shove them in the ground.”
Cronin was quiet in court, saying only “I understand” when Judge Barbara Zambelli imposed protection orders to keep him away from Borelli and Felice. Cronin’s lawyer, Pierre Sussman, entered the not-guilty plea.
Neither Cronin nor his lawyer would comment outside the courtroom.
As CBS 2’s Lou Young reported, the lawyer representing Felice and Borelli claims the shooting was a result of an all-day booze binge that may have began when Cronin was supposed to be at work at the Rodman’s Neck Firing Range.
“Mr. Cronin admitted that he had 10 drinks that day, beers as well Jameson,” attorney Randolph McLaughlin said. “We have information that allegedly he and the sergeant, who was his supervisor, that they were both drinking after work and there’s some allegation as well that they were drinking during work, on duty.”
Laughlin said surveillance video shows that Cronin parked his own car, “deliberately and purposefully” advanced on Borelli’s car from behind and “just started shooting.”
The video has not been made public.
Felice and Borelli have filed notices of claim for a total of $90 million against Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, New York City, Cronin and several fellow officers who they say were drinking with Cronin in the hours before the shooting.
Officials said Cronin, who lives in Yonkers, drove off after the shooting but was pulled over by Pelham police, who said Cronin continued to wave his gun out of his car window after being pulled over.
Cronin refused to take an alcohol breath test when he was arrested, and he was originally charged only with assault. But Pelham police filled out an “alcoholic influence report” based on his answers to questions, according to court papers.
The report said he told investigators he’d been drinking “beer and Jameson.” The question “Quantities?” is answered “10.”
According to another document, when Cronin was asked what had happened, “the defendant stated he did not know.”
Felice and Borelli have told police they don’t know Cronin.
“I have the question that everybody has, which is ‘why?'” Borelli said. “That’s the question that will continue to roll in my head. Every time I looked at him, that’s what kept spinning: “Why?'”
Police investigators have been able to retrace Cronin’s movements the day of the shooting, Young reported. He apparently took a lunch break with other trainees on City Island, police said. They went back to finish their training at the shooting range and then returned to City Island to continue drinking, according to authorities.
“They were actually pretty short,” Mary Ann White, a City Island bartender, told Young. “He was here. But from what I heard, he was all over City Island.”
If convicted of attempted murder, Cronin could be sentenced to up to 25 years in prison.
The NYPD has suspended Cronin without pay. If convicted, he will be terminated.
The judge set a court conference for July 24.
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