NEW YORK (AP) — A man with a lengthy arrest record got out of jail and into a drug treatment program months before he was accused of gunning down a police officer while he was wanted in another shooting, infuriating the police commissioner and prompting a judge to defend his decision.
Tyrone Howard, who's accused of stealing a bike and fatally shooting Officer Randolph Holder in the head after a chase Tuesday night, was arraigned late Wednesday in Manhattan Criminal Court. He did not enter a plea after being charged with first-degree murder and robbery and was ordered held without bail.
Assistant District Attorney Linda Ford said the case against Howard would be presented to a grand jury on Friday and Monday. His attorney, Brian Kennedy, did not ask for bail and said he wasn't sure yet if his client would testify before the grand jury.
Kennedy said his client, who wore a white jumpsuit at the arraignment and appeared to slouch down during the proceeding, had been suffering from chest pain.
"There's a lot of details we don't yet know in this tragic event," defense attorney Brian Kennedy said. "We don't know Mr. Howard's involvement. We don't know if there was a gun recovered. There's a lot of missing details."
Several of the officer's family members were in the courtroom sobbing. Some shouted at Howard during the proceeding.
"Once you met him, you loved him," Holder's cousin, George Johnson, said. "He was respectful. There was nothing not to like about him. Everything about him was good."
Earlier, a visibly angry Commissioner William Bratton described Howard, 30, as a dangerous career criminal who never should have been on the streets, calling him a "poster boy for not being diverted" to a treatment-oriented drug court instead of to prison.
But the judge who referred Howard to the diversion program said he had no reason to believe Howard was violent.
"Why is this guy at least a candidate [for diversion]? Because nothing else has worked," state Supreme Court Justice Edward McLaughlin said.
Howard, who has four felony drug convictions and did stints in state prison, was arrested in October 2014 along with 18 other people and charged with selling crack cocaine to an undercover officer at a public housing complex.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr.'s office recommended Howard serve seven years on that charge.
But McLaughlin was persuaded to refer the case to a team dedicated to screening candidates for drug treatment, a decision another judge approved, since Howard had no convictions for violent offenses. He was also persuaded by reading a social worker's report detailing Howard's troubled home life and longtime addiction to PCP.
Howard, who has two children, was bailed out of jail in February, pleaded guilty to the drug charge and was making regular court appearances until late August, when he skipped a court date, court system spokesman David Bookstaver said.
Days later, Howard shot and wounded a gang member, police said. Investigators had made 10 unsuccessful attempts to arrest him at various addresses before this week's shooting.
Police said Howard has been arrested 28 times since age 13 and had a history of violence. They said he was arrested in connection with a 2009 shooting that injured an 11-year-old and a 78-year-old.
"It's unfortunate that there are people in our city, in our society, that, despite our best efforts ... they're criminals," Bratton said. "And this individual, I think, is one of those."
But McLaughlin said that he never saw a record indicating a shooting arrest and that a conviction for such a violent offense would have barred Howard from qualifying for the diversion program. A spokesman for prosecutors didn't respond to questions about that arrest.
A lawyer who represented Howard in the recent drug case, Robert Levy, said his client was trying to get into a residential treatment program before he skipped his court dates.
Holder, a five-year veteran, made 125 arrests in his career and was awarded six departmental citations for his work. The Guyana native, 33, was the son and grandson of police officers and worked in a division that polices public housing developments.
Holder is the second New York Police Department officer killed in the line of duty this year and the fourth in the past 11 months. But while line-of-duty police slayings are down from a high of 12 in 1971, the four officers killed in the past 11 months represent more than in any 12-month period in recent years, police records show.
Holder and his partner had responded to a report of shots fired near a public housing development in East Harlem. When they arrived, a man said his bike had been stolen at gunpoint and the thief 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. After Holder was shot, the gunman ditched the bike and fled, police said. He was caught several blocks away with a gunshot wound to his leg, Bratton said.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said Howard was among the thousands of people responsible for a disproportionate amount of violence citywide. He echoed the police commissioner's insistence that Howard should have been locked away, saying "someone like this shouldn't have been on the streets."
Outside the courtroom Wednesday night, Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch rallied with the officers.
"If you raise a hand to one of us, you raised a hand to all of us," he said. "We're going to be here for this family. Anyone of us could have been Officer Holder. If the roles were reversed, Officer Holder would be here for us."
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(Photo: New York Department of Corrections via AP)