Botched robbery leads to N.Y. student’s death -- by police
It wasn’t like the movies. Seven of the police officer’s bullets hit the robber. An eighth hit a hostage, Andrea Rebello. Both were killed, and a standoff was over.
The repercussions, however, had just begun. The death of the 21-year-old Hofstra University student after a botched home robbery early Friday morning has shaken the Long Island community of Hempstead, N.Y.
As a university community prepared to say its final goodbyes to Rebello, whose funeral is set for Wednesday, Nassau County police officials have faced a raft of questions over whether the unnamed officer made a criminal mistake or was simply forced into an impossible dilemma.
The incident unfolded at an two-story home near Hofstra early Friday morning.
Three women -- including Rebello and her twin sister, Jessica -- and one of their boyfriends had come home after a night out when Dalton Smith, 30, came inside with a 9-millimeter handgun, police said.
Smith had an extensive history of robbery arrests and was on parole for first-degree robbery when he stepped into Rebello’s apartment. His handgun, which had been defaced to the point of being untraceable for police, contained a round in the chamber and a round in its magazine.
Officials related a harrowing account of what came next, which lasted all of 10 minutes. “It was a very very fluid call, it started out as a robbery in progress … it was a hectic situation ... very, very quick,” Nassau County Det. Vincent Garcia told the Los Angeles Times on Monday.
Smith, apparently not satisfied with the residents’ valuables, sent one of the women outside to go to an ATM to get more cash; if she didn’t come back within eight minutes, Smith threatened to start shooting her roommates, Garcia said. The woman left, but called police instead.
When two officers arrived at the residence, Rebello’s sister fled out the front door when Smith told her to go tell officers everything was fine, Garcia said. The remaining male hostage, who’d been taken upstairs with Rebello, either fell or was pushed down the apartment stairs, colliding with the front door and locking it shut. Garcia said that left one officer inside and one outside.
The officer who remained inside tried to take cover downstairs as Smith descended the staircase using Rebello as a human shield, according to Garcia. Then the male hostage apparently shouted that there was a police officer in the home, leading to a confrontation between the officer and Smith.
Police said that Smith pointed his loaded handgun at the officer, an eight-year-member of the force, and the officer then shot and killed both Smith and Rebello.
Her death rocked Hofstra. Campus flags were lowered to half-staff in her honor as graduation ceremonies began over the weekend.
“You will hear in this commencement program lots of advice,” Hofstra President Stuart Rabinowitz said at a Sunday graduation ceremony, according to the New York Daily News. “But you know Andrea’s favorite bit of advice is not a bad start. It’s from Bob Marley: ‘Live the life you love and love the life you live.’ ”
Analysts told the Associated Press that the officer likely faced an impossible situation after coming face-to-face with Smith.
“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,” Michele Galietta, a professor of psychology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice who helps train police officers, told the AP. “That’s what makes the job of an officer amazingly difficult.”
Det. Garcia said officials weren’t answering questions about the department’s tactical strategies and policies -- for instance, whether officers should have set up a perimeter outside the house and waited for hostage negotiators to arrive.
“If I put out the way we will react to a particular call, then it’s printed, then I’m telling a criminal what we’ll do in” that situation, Garcia said.
The unnamed officer has been placed on sick leave, as is customary after an officer-involved shooting, Garcia said. The department and the district attorney’s office are investigating the shooting.
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