NEW YORK — A career criminal accused of killing a police officer had been released from jail into a drug diversion program and was wanted in a shooting last month, said Police Commissioner William Bratton, noting that the suspect had shown an increasing level of violence and shouldn't have been on the streets.
Tyrone Howard is expected to be charged with fatally shooting New York Police Department Officer Randolph Holder during a gunfight Tuesday night on a pedestrian bridge after stealing a bike.
He was arrested in October 2014 along with 18 other people and charged with selling crack cocaine at an East Harlem public housing complex. But Bratton said Howard was released into a drug diversion program, which is meant to keep drug offenders from overcrowding the city's jails.
"If ever there was a candidate not to be diverted, it would be this guy," Bratton said. "There are people in our society who are criminals, who are violent criminals ... who should be separated from the rest of society."
But court officials said Howard qualified for the program because he was charged with selling and possessing drugs and was addicted.
"Actually, he's the perfect candidate in many ways," state court system spokesman David Bookstaver told The Associated Press.
Howard pleaded guilty to the drug charge this May and was ordered to attend monthly status meetings, but he stopped attending those Aug. 21. An arrest warrant was issued Sept. 17.
The 30-year-old had been arrested 28 times since he was 13 for offenses including drug possession and robbery, authorities said. He's been sentenced to state prison twice since 2007 on drug possession and sale convictions, state records show. Howard was arrested in connection with a June 2009 shooting that left an 11-year-old with a gunshot wound to the leg and a 78-year-old grazed by a bullet, according to police. The disposition of that case wasn't immediately clear.
Howard had also been wanted in connection with the Sept. 1 shooting of a gang member, said James O'Neill, the NYPD's chief of department. He skipped court appearances and police couldn't track him down, O'Neill said. Police said officers had attempted to locate Howard 10 times since the shooting.
Charges against Howard in Holder's shooting were pending. It was unclear if he had a lawyer.
Holder was the second NYPD officer killed this year and the fourth slain in the past 11 months, Bratton said.
The fatal shooting happened as Holder and his partner responded to a report of shots being fired at around 8:30 p.m. near a public housing development in East Harlem, in north Manhattan. When they arrived, a man said his bike had been stolen at gunpoint and the suspect fled with a group of people along a footpath near the East River.
The officers caught up to a man with a bike on a pedestrian overpass that spans a highway and traded gunfire, police said. Holder, 33, was struck in the head, and the suspect ditched the bike and fled, police said. He was caught several blocks away with a gunshot wound to his leg, Bratton said.
Howard was released from the hospital Wednesday and was in custody. Three others who were questioned were later released.
So far this year in New York, one other officer, Patrolman Brian Moore, has been shot and killed. Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were ambushed and shot to death in December by a man who said he wanted to kill some cops in Brooklyn.
No officers were shot and killed in 2013 or 2012. But while line-of-duty police slayings are down from a high of 12 in 1971, the four police killed in the past 11 months is more than in any 12-month period in recent years, police records show. In 1996, five police officers were shot and killed, according to NYPD statistics.
Nationwide, 31 officers besides Holder have been killed by firearms in the past year, down from 38 the year before, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, a nonprofit law enforcement information clearinghouse.
Police on Wednesday searched for the suspect's gun near where Holder had been shot. They recovered a clip and shell casings believed to have come from Howard's weapon.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said Holder, who joined the force in July 2010, had an "exemplary record" as a police officer.
Holder was a native of Guyana. He worked in the NYPD division that polices the city's public housing developments. His father and grandfather were police officers in Guyana, Bratton said.
Flags were at half-staff Wednesday at city buildings and other structures around the boroughs. Police closed sections of streets near the shooting, forcing parents walking their children to a nearby grade school to use an alternate route.
"There's a lot of crime around here that comes from the housing (projects)," said Monica Amolina, who works at the school. "It's a high-crime area. Lots of gang activity. I always walk fast to work."
Associated Press writers Jonathan Lemire, Colleen Long, Tom Hays, Jake Pearson and Alex Lynch contributed to this report.