YONKERS, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — There were new questions Wednesday about the teenage suspect accused of shooting a Yonkers police officer, as the wounded cop recovers at home.
Officer Kayla Maher walked out of Jacobi Hospital Tuesday afternoon with a bandage on her chin to a crowd of applause from her fellow officers less than 24 hours after police said she was shot in the jaw by a suspect.
“She rolls with the punches, she knows how to handle herself,” said family friend Nick Molinini. “She gets in there and you know, just a great, amazing person — strong-willed.”
The suspect who allegedly pulled the trigger has been identified as 18-year-old Frank Valencia, who was sentenced to five years probation by a Bronx judge after being arrested in May carrying a handgun, 300 rounds of ammunition and knives in his backpack, CBS2’s Magdalena Doris reported.
Valencia was 17 at the time of his arrest and took the plea deal on Sept. 20, just five days before allegedly opening fire on officer Maher.
Police and federal agents searched a yellow house on Crestview Place in New Rochelle for more than an hour Wednesday, looking for possible guns or drugs, CBS2’s Brian Conybeare reported. Valencia previously lived in the home with his family until he got into a dispute with his father last spring and was charged with weapons possession, menacing and harassment.
“I’m shocked. I’m kind of taken aback that something like this could happen, because I know this family is a good family,” neighbor Rev. Jamel Hollis said.
Yonkers Police Benevolent Association President Keith Olson says the suspect should have never been out on the street.
“He was caught with a defaced, loaded handgun with 300 rounds of ammunition. That’s not what youthful offender status is for,” he said. “I would love to hear his explanation on this and the reality is his decision almost cost the life of one of our police officers.”
The Bronx district attorney’s office says it was against Judge George Villegas’ offer of a probation plea deal.
A statement from New York State courts reads: “Judge Villegas, exercising his judicial discretion, granted the defendant youthful offender status based on the facts and circumstances of before him and the defendants past record.”
Pace University law professor Bennett Gershman told Conybeare judges have to weigh the defendant’s age and criminal past with possible danger to society and chances of rehabilitation.
“It’s a tough call,” he said. “On the face of it, it seems like he’s a dangerous offender. But he’s also a juvenile. And what do you do to somebody like that? Do you send them to jail for 10 years, or do you hope that maybe if we set the person free – put him on probation for five years – maybe the kid will go straight?”
The shooting happened around 8 p.m. Monday near Marshall Road and Ridge Drive. Police said Maher and her partner were responding to a call in the neighborhood about a report of a suspicious vehicle occupied by two males.
“Upon arrival, the officers approached the vehicle at which time one of the males suddenly produced a firearm and fired several shots at the officers at point-blank range, striking Officer Kayla Maher in the face,” Yonkers Police Commissioner Charles Gardner said Tuesday. “The officers returned fire, striking the shooter.”
As a flurry of bullets flew through the air, fellow officers picked up the wounded Maher, carrying her to a waiting ambulance.
“Hero,” Gardner said. “Pulled her from the scene in the middle of the gun battle and we’re very proud of him.”
Valencia was also injured in the shootout with police and sources say doctors will have to assess his mental capacity before he is arraigned on charges.
Police say investigators recovered a gun at the scene.
Jerry Reyes, a 22-year-old passenger in the alleged shooter’s vehicle at the time, was arraigned Wednesday afternoon. He’s charged with criminal possession of a weapon.
The 26-year-old Maher is the daughter of a retired NYPD sergeant with two years on the force.