Sunday, January 1, 2012

Intervening After Robbery, an Off-Duty A.T.F. Agent Is Killed

Paul Mazza/Associated Press
A police officer stood on the sidewalk in front of Charlie’s Family Pharmacy on Merrick Road in Seaford after a robber was killed while fleeing the store. An off-duty special agent was also fatally shot while trying to stop the robber.
 An off-duty special agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was fatally shot on Saturday afternoon when he, along with at least one other law enforcement officer and a retired officer, tried to stop a robber who had just held up a pharmacy on Long Island, the authorities said.

 The apparent robber was also killed.

 Details of the shooting, which occurred outside Charlie’s Family Pharmacy on Merrick Road in Seaford, remained murky on Saturday night as the authorities seemed unsure how it unfolded and who fired the fatal shots.

Senior Special Agent John Capano, an explosives specialist who was in his 40s, had been a special agent for 23 years, said Joe Anarumo, a special agent with the bureau.

“Today, doing his job in an off-duty capacity, he intervened in an armed robbery and subsequently was shot,” Special Agent Anarumo said, adding, “He is a hero.”

Joseph G. Green, a spokesman for the New York office of the bureau, said he had worked closely with Special Agent Capano in the early 1990s when they were assigned to a joint firearms task force with the New York Police Department.

“It is a sad and tragic way to end the year,” Mr. Green said. “Over time, he became a certified explosives expert for A.T.F. who oversaw and assisted in conducting explosives training for law enforcement here in the United States, but also volunteered to travel overseas to Afghanistan and Iraq as part of A.T.F.’s explosives training for our troops in the military and police in those countries.”

Special Agent Capano was married, lived on Long Island and had two children, a daughter who is in high school and a son who is in college. His father is a retired law enforcement officer, Mr. Green added.

It was just before 2 p.m. on Saturday when a man walked into the drugstore, said Officer Maureen Roach, a Nassau County police spokeswoman. She did not say if the man was armed.

“He was demanding OxyContin and cash,” said Lt. Kevin Smith of the Nassau County police, adding that he did not know how much was stolen.

There were customers in the store at the time of the robbery, Lieutenant Smith said, though he said he did not know how many.

A law enforcement official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the case was unresolved, said the preliminary accounts indicated that after the man left the pharmacy, he went to a parking lot, and people pointed him out as the possible robber. Special Agent Capano then confronted the man.

Somehow in the struggle between Special Agent Capano and the robbery suspect shots were fired, “and that is when the agent is shot,” the official said.

Next door to the pharmacy is a deli that, according to the official, was believed to be owned by a retired Nassau County police officer or detective. Some people from the pharmacy ran into the deli and told the people there what had happened. Also in the deli was an off-duty member of the New York Police Department, the official said.

“They come out and see these guys struggling,” the official said.

The official said it was believed that either the retired Nassau officer or the off-duty New York officer shot at the struggling men. The suspect was hit by gunshots and was fatally wounded.

It is not clear if Special Agent Capano was shot then or if he had been wounded in the struggle with the suspect. He was taken to Nassau University Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

Ryan Lecertosa, 24, was on his way home when he drove past the pharmacy Saturday afternoon and heard several gunshots. He said he saw a large man in front of the shop with a blood-soaked shirt.

“He was holding his chest, and then he collapsed,” Mr. Lecertosa said, adding that the man was instantly surrounded by about six people.

As the authorities try to establish just what happened, they will have to collect whatever guns were present, and try to figure out who fired, and how many shots. They will check the ballistics. Autopsies will be performed. Among the questions will be what bullets caused what wounds. Eyewitness accounts will be gathered, as well as any admissions made spontaneously, if they were.

Asked for details about the shooting and whether New York police officers were somehow involved, Detective Brian Sessa, a New York Police Department spokesman, said: “We are looking into it. It is not our investigation; it is Nassau County’s investigation. We’re looking into it.”

The episode aroused memories of the shooting deaths last June of four people inside a pharmacy in Medford, N.Y., several miles east of Seaford, in Suffolk County. The killer, David S. Laffer, 33, pleaded guilty in September to first-degree murder. After killing the four — a pharmacist, a clerk who was still in high school and two customers — he fled the store with thousands of pain pills.

That crime, described by prosecutors as one of the most horrific in the history of Suffolk County, appeared to have been a severe example of a national epidemic involving drugstore robberies by prescription drug addicts.

New York Times