HUNTINGTON STATION, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A suspect pleaded not guilty Thursday in a shooting that wounded Suffolk County officer while on duty in Huntington Station, police said.
Sheldon Leftenant, 22, was charged with attempted aggravated murder and resisting arrest in connection with the shooting of Officer Mark Collins, police said. He was arraigned Thursday, pleading not guilty.
Leftenant faced a sea of blue as dozens of cops were on hand for his arraignment.
Police said Collins was shot just before midnight Wednesday while confronting Leftenant, who fled a traffic stop at Mercer Court off Jericho Turnpike.
Collins, a 12-year veteran assigned to the Gang Unit in the 2nd Precinct, was in plain clothes and driving an unmarked vehicle when he stopped the car, police said.
After the car stopped, police said one of the four men inside ran from the vehicle when Collins and two other officers approached.
“The officer had a confrontation with the suspect, the suspect shot Officer Collins twice,” said Suffolk County Police Commissioner Edward Webber. “One bullet hit him in the neck. The other bullet hit him in the hip.”
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said Collins was in serious condition late Thursday afternoon. He had been in a medically induced coma in the intensive care unit of Stony Brook University Hospital, but was out of the coma and was conscious and responsive early Thursday evening.
Bellone said Collins was “speaking and able to communicate” when he arrived at the hospital. He said Collins “confronted evil and fortunately, angels were on his side.”
“While we are at home, sleeping comfortably in our beds, these officers are out there working to apprehend the people who are doing harm,” he said. “We are grateful tonight that the officer has a good prognosis.”
Dr. James Vosswinkel, the hospital’s chief of trauma and emergency surgery, said Collins’ injuries do not appear to be life-threatening.
“I believe he has a very favorable prognosis to recover from these injuries,” he said.
Webber said the suspect was apprehended about an hour after the shooting. He said the other people in the vehicle had been temporarily detained and were being questioned.
Sources told CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff that Collins was so coherent moments after the shooting, he was actually able to direct his own rescue and identify the suspect.
“Even up to the point that they were wheeling him into the treatment room, he was calm — couldn’t believe how calm and brave and strong he was,” police Chief James Burke told WCBS 880’s Sophia Hall.
Webber said Collins is a highly decorated officer who was named officer of the year in 2008.
“He is a hero and we are thankful his injuries, although serious, are not worse,” added Webber.
“This is an inherent reminder of the dangers that men and women face every day when they put on that badge,” said Suffolk County PBA President Noel DiGerolamo.
More than 100 men and women in blue packed the Suffolk County courtroom as Leftenant was arraigned.
The DA said Leftenant admitted to detectives he committed the crime, but his lawyer said his client maintains his innocence.
“He maintains his innocence. Once we find out more evidence and get more facts we’ll have a better idea of what happened,” attorney Ian Fitzgerald.
As CBS2’s Matt Kozar reported, investigators allege that Leftenant is a member of the Tip Top Boyz Gang.
If convicted, Leftenant faces life behind bars.
Collins also serves on the Board of Fire Commissioners of the North Bellmore Fire District and is a volunteer firefighter.
“He serves his community as a police officer, as a volunteer elected official and as a volunteer firefighter,” the Board of Fire Commissioners said in a statement. “We believe that he epitomizes the best of our community, why we are proud to call him friend and colleague, and why we are proud to be Americans.
“On behalf of the officers and employees of the fire district and the officers and members of the fire department we wish him a speedy and full recovery, and we offer our prayers and support for him and his family.”
Friend Ed Kraus, who serves with Collins as a fire commissioner, said the 35-year-old officer is a lifelong resident of North Bellmore, where he lives with wife.
“His mother lives in town, his whole family — sister, brother — his brother is also involved in the department here,” Kraus said. “Just a family of people who serve the community, good people.”
Kraus said everyone is pulling for Collins.
“He’s getting better and better. He’s going to be OK, he’s sedated but the doctors are really hopeful that he’ll make a full recovery, it’s sounding very optimistic that he should make a full recovery and obviously that’s all we want to hear,” Kraus said.
The shooting has Collins’ neighbors outraged.
“We’re sick. We’re sick about it,” Diane Mosson told CBS2’s Illana Gold.
The investigation is still ongoing.
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