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for reference. The original video has been deleted and is no longer available. RPD officer shot - were proper resources deployed?
Rochester, N.Y. --- Last Thursday the apprehension of Ralph Strong Jr., the suspected gunman in a double homicide days earlier, ended in a gun battle with police.
Rochester Police Sergeant Flamur Zenelovic is now at home recovering from multiple gunshot wounds. Gene McDougal, a Henrietta man in his car at the intersection of Goodman and Norton Streets remains in the hospital recovering from injuries suffered when a bullet penetrated his car door. Strong is also in the hospital recovering from five gunshot wounds; he remains in police custody while there.
In a briefing on Friday Rochester Police Chief James Sheppard explained that officers first engaged Strong during an attempted traffic stop. Strong fled that attempted stop and was located again in the 1700 block of Goodman Street where a foot pursuit and shootout ensued.
13WHAM News asked Sheppard in that Friday briefing if there were “discussions of a more tactical takedown of this suspect given that he was wanted for two homicides?”
“Always,” Chief Sheppard responded. “Anytime we want to engage someone we want to have a tactical plan put together, sometimes the circumstances will arise where – poof, there they are, you have to deal with it.”
A follow-up question asked, “And when you see him the best thing is to just take him down right there?”
"Under the circumstances of who he was, what he had done, the level of violence that he had demonstrated they felt that it was the correct decision to take matters under control and make their arrest," Chief Sheppard replied.
On Tuesday 13WHAM News again asked the chief if he felt appropriate resources were deployed in the apprehension of Strong.
"I think in terms of doing our job every vehicle stop we do is potential for danger and I think we would love to be in a scenario where we can dictate the outcome but the reality is what we do is respond to what the suspect does,” said Sheppard. “And whether it's a routine traffic stop, whether it's a high profile traffic stop that is what we're trained to do and so in this circumstance we could've had all the plans in place that would've dictated a different outcome but the fact of the matter is our actions were dictated by his actions.”
Locust Club Union President Mike Mazzeo tells 13WHAM News he is still looking to learn more about the incident. He also said that Strong, in his opinion, was as dangerous a target as his officers will encounter.
“Oh yeah he was definitely at the top of the level, very dangerous cold-blooded killer with nothing to lose,” said Mazzeo. “We're blessed and lucky to come out of this situation the way we have it could've been vastly different.”
Mazzeo said he is not personally aware of the discussions surrounding what resources should be deployed for this arrest but it is something he will monitor closely as ongoing criminal and internal investigations take place.
"The more resources the better prepared the better way you can contain a situation obviously ensures safety not only for our officers but also for the community,” said Mazzeo. “Resources equal money and there are always concerns about monetary issues. We won't accept that obviously as a union in terms of safety of our members so we always seek to ensure those aren't factors.”
On that sunny Thursday afternoon the intersection of Goodman and Norton Street was full of people who suddenly ran for cover when the first shots rang out. Zambito’s Service Center, an auto repair shop, was right in the middle of the shootout that caught everyone by surprise.
"All of a sudden I come out of the back room to make sure everything is OK and I see the person who pulled through (the parking lot) fast get out of the car and draw a weapon, he was an undercover police officer and I said Vic get out of there,” owner Rick Zambito recalled. “Vic turned and ran back to the shop and as he just made a couple of steps that's when we started hearing the pop-pop-pop-pop.”
"I was turning around coming back when I started hearing the rounds come out and I just started ducking and running, nothing else to do,” said Zambito’s employee Vic D’Agostino Jr.
The employees huddled in a backroom surrounded by cinder blocks and watched the event unfold on a monitor that showed the real-time surveillance camera footage. At one point they saw a woman pushing a child in a stroller and running for cover while crossing their parking lot.
“She was like ducking, crying hysterically,” said Zambito who ran outside to call her into his business for safety. “I had come out of the back room and I had guided her and the baby inside my safe room.”
The surveillance footage appears to capture a possible image of the suspect, Ralph Strong Jr., fleeing officers on foot while traveling westbound across Goodman Street. Another camera appears to capture the vehicle driven by Gene McDougal as it approaches the intersection. That vehicle would’ve been struck by a bullet barely a second after leaving the camera’s frame.
"That bullet had to come from South to North right down the sidewalk,” Zambito said of that shot.
“The guy was stopped there for a few lights,” D’Agostino Jr. said of McDougal’s vehicle in the intersection of Goodman and Norton. “The officers went over to him and he said, hey I got shot.”
Witnesses describe hearing at least three separate exchanges of shots being fired. In each case the sounds of popping are hard to decipher but most agree that perhaps many dozens of shots were fired in that area over a span of about five minutes.
"They subdued the guy very quickly, it was a matter of four or five minutes all together,” D’Agostino Jr. said of police officers at the scene. “Amen to those guys.”
"The shooter put their backs against the wall and they did what they had to do and I think they did a great job," added Zambito.
Rochester Police Chief James Sheppard also said Tuesday that an Irondequoit Police Officer played a key role in helping to get Sgt. Zenelovic to the hospital after he was shot.
"An I.P.D. officer along with an R.P.D. officer responded, they provided first aid they took him to the hospital using their police vehicle,” said Sheppard. “I understand that in addition to providing for their officer there were people who provided first aid for the suspect as well.”