CLAREMONT, the Bronx (PIX11) — A suspect who allegedly opened fire on two NYPD officers patrolling the Bronx Tuesday night before he was fatally shot was a career criminal who should not have been on the street to begin with, according to NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell.
Rameek Smith, 25, was awaiting sentencing for a separate gun-related case when he encountered two NYPD officers near Third Avenue and Claremont Parkway around 10:45 p.m., police said. As the officers approached, Smith allegedly ran from them, then opened fire about a block and a half away, according to investigators.
NYPD Officer Dennis Vargas was shot in the arm, police said. Police returned fire and Smith was shot in the head, according to the NYPD.
Smith died at a hospital, police said. The 32-year-old officer was treated and released early Wednesday morning.
Emotional and outraged, Mayor Eric Adams condemned the shooting during an overnight NYPD briefing.
“I’m focused on those who are carrying guns, particularly in this borough. The number of shootings that we are responding to every night is despicable,” the mayor said.
Commissioner Sewell said Smith was a “dangerous criminal who should not have been on the streets of the Bronx or anywhere else.” Most of Smith’s arrest history is sealed from the public, sources told PIX11 News.
However, back in 2016, he pleaded guilty to a robbery in Staten Island and was given five years of probation. While out on supervision, he was found with a gun while jumping a turnstile in Coney Island. He pleaded guilty but his sentencing was delayed twice.
“So you’re asking yourself, ‘he pleaded guilty in December 2021, why wasn’t he in jail?’” Adams questioned. “People want to ask why I’m cracking down on fare evasions? That’s why.”
In the wake of Tuesday night’s shooting, the mayor and police commissioner were expected Wednesday to announce further efforts to crack down on gun violence in the city. To date, the NYPD has removed over 2,600 illegal firearms from the streets, per authorities.
The gun used in Tuesday night’s shooting was a 9mm Glock that was stolen in Virginia in June 2021 and came to New York through the so-called Iron Pipeline, officials said.
A spokesperson from the Legal Aid Society said the nonprofit was representing Smith. The organization accused Adams and the NYPD of misrepresenting Smith’s character as well as the reason he was released from jail.
“Rameek Smith was a father and son. His tragic and untimely killing is devastating. Mr. Smith was released from New York City Department of Correction custody on a non-violent felony in March 2020, on the consent of the Kings County District Attorney’s office and the court. Since that time, after being accepted to Mental Health Court, Mr. Smith complied with all of his obligations, attending every court appearance and consistently participating in programming to address his needs,” the spokesman said in an emailed statement. “Mayor Adams and the New York City Police Department’s baseless claims that this case involves bail reform is patently incorrect and exposes the Administration’s continued refusal to comprehend the scope and benefits of these reforms.”
However, the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office refuted the Legal Aid’s account of how Smith was released. According to prosecutors, Smith was indicted on a charge of criminal possession of a weapon in March 2020. In October 2020, Brooklyn prosecutors asked a judge to set bail at $50,000, but the request was denied by the judge, according to the district attorney’s office.
After an evaluation by a court-appointed psychiatrist and judicial approval, Smith pleaded guilty in December 2021 to attempted criminal possession of a weapon and other related charges, per the district attorney’s office. He was placed under the supervision of the Mental Health Court.
Smith’s sentence, which could have been as high as two to four years, would have been determined by the judge at the end of the mental health court mandate, according to the district attorney’s office.