Brian Mulkeen, 33, had a fascination with heroes and loved action movies. It did not surprise his friends when he became a New York City police officer, in an aggressive plainclothes unit focused on getting guns off the street.
Antonio Lavance Williams, 27, a cook and a father of two from Binghamton, N.Y., had traveled to the Bronx to watch a televised prize fight with a friend. He was on probation for a drug conviction. He was also carrying a pistol, the police say.
The lives of these two men, of similar build and close in age, collided — and ended — violently, just after midnight on Sunday, Sept. 29.
Mr. Williams had everything to lose if he were arrested again, and when plainclothes officers tried to question him and another man outside the Edenwald Houses at 12:30 a.m., he ran. Officer Mulkeen chased Mr. Williams and they grappled in a dark courtyard behind a building.
Within minutes, both were mortally wounded by gunshots fired by officers. Officer Mulkeen fired five times at Mr. Williams before being shot by his fellow officers. Mr. Williams’s .32-caliber revolver was never fired.
Ten days later, the police have released few details about the shooting. The department has not said why Officer Mulkeen and his partners stopped Mr. Williams, nor has it said when or how the officers learned Mr. Williams had a loaded gun. And it has not explained how Officer Mulkeen ended up in the line of fire of his partners.
To some critics of the police, the deaths of Officer Mulkeen and Mr. Williams are emblematic of the risks inherent in the Police Department’s strategy of sending plainclothes teams to search for people with guns. The units have been accused of being overzealous and of stopping people on questionable legal grounds.
The friendly fire police death — the second time this year an officer has been killed by colleagues’ bullets — has also led to calls for more training.
At Officer Mulkeen’s funeral, the police commissioner, James P. O’Neill, said, “One person is responsible for Brian’s death, and that’s the person carrying a loaded and illegal gun that decided to run from the police.”
From Wall Street to the N.Y.P.D
A decade ago, Brian Mulkeen was a financial adviser for Merrill Lynch, on Park Avenue.
It should have been a dream job; he had a degree in finance and the salary was good. But after two years, he was unhappy, his friends and family said. He told friends his work lacked meaning. He wanted to become a police officer.
“He took a huge pay cut to protect people in some of the worst neighborhoods in the city because he felt that call,” said Daniel Tucker, a police sergeant in Salem, Mass.
Officer Mulkeen’s pivot toward law enforcement seemed to be preordained. His grandfather had worked as a police detective, and two of his uncles were law enforcement officers, family said.
He resigned from Merrill Lynch in 2009 and moved to Orange County, N.Y. He picked up part-time work as a police dispatcher in the nearby town of Tuxedo and took a basic police training course, graduating with honors.
Officer Mulkeen joined the New York Police Department in January 2013, and was assigned to a beat in the Bronx. Not long after, he was promoted to the borough’s plainclothes anti-crime unit.
His commanding officer, Capt. Jeff Haelig, described Officer Mulkeen as a “gentle giant.” “When it was time to be on the street to be the police, he was. When it was time to be compassionate and have a heart, he did,” he said.
As he settled into the job, Officer Mulkeen started dating another officer in the Bronx, and the couple bought a fixer-upper in Yorktown Heights.
“They just brought so much energy to the neighborhood,” said Peter Pepdjonovic, 45, who lives on the same block. “We are all heartbroken here.”
Troubled, but loved
If Officer Mulkeen seemed driven, Antonio Lavance Williams appeared unmoored.
“He had his troubles,” said Manny Germosen, 25, who met Mr. Williams when they were children in Rockland, N.Y. “But he was always there for everybody.”
Born in Washington, D.C., Mr. Williams spent his early years in Maryland before moving to New York State to live with his father. He attended North Rockland High School, where he met Tian Montanez. Their friendship turned romantic in 2015 and they had a son, who is now 2. Mr. Williams also had 4-year-old daughter from another relationship.
Mr. Williams came from “a good family,” Ms. Montanez said. His father, Shawn Williams, is a psychiatrist at a hospital and his stepmother is a pediatrician, Ms. Montanez said.
He was a lively teenager, his family said — the life of the party. Relatives recalled his sense of humor and said he enjoyed music and rapping.
From a young age, he looked out for his friends, Mr. Germosen recalled, adding that when they were 12, Mr. Williams, who was tall and stocky, protected Mr. Germosen from another boy who bullied him.
Mr. Williams began associating with a gang at a young age, Ms. Montanez said, though she tried to steer him away. In 2011, when he was 19, he and another man were accused of breaking into two homes and taking jewelry and other valuables. He was convicted in 2012, and spent two years in prison.
Not long after his release in 2014, he was rearrested on a parole violation and admitted to a drug treatment facility.
“I don’t know what he was thinking,” Ms. Montanez said, of his gang affiliation.
The couple’s life took a turn in 2016 when Ms. Montanez, now 23, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, she said. Mr. Williams worked as a garbage collector and as a cook to pay rent while Ms. Montanez was out of work, she said. To save money, they decided to move from Rockland County to Binghamton with their son.
Ms. Montanez had Mr. Williams’s parole transferred to that county, she said. Mr. Williams found work as a cook at a restaurant and furnished their bedroom with items from the Salvation Army. If the family ran out of food, Mr. Williams would take their son to the local pantry to get some, Ms. Montanez said.
But in August, their lives unraveled. Ms. Montanez was going through a closet when she discovered a handgun wrapped in a red bandanna, and a bag of heroin. According to a deposition filed at the time, Ms. Montanez confronted Mr. Williams; he slapped her, took the items, and left.
Ms. Montanez sought an order of protection against him. She said in an interview last week that she had lied: “It wasn’t true he slapped me. I just wanted him out the house.”
Mr. Williams, she said, told her that he had gotten the gun to protect his family. “On Aug. 15, he left this house and he started going downhill,” she added.
In recent months, Mr. Williams was moving between homes, she said.
On Saturday, Sept. 28, Mr. Williams called Ms. Montanez to tell her that he was watching a televised boxing match with a friend. He did not mention that he was in the Bronx.
Getting guns off the street
Twenty-four hours before he died, Officer Mulkeen arrested a man in the Bronx for possession of a loaded gun. Since joining the force, he had made about 270 arrests, most for gun possession.
Getting guns off the street was the mandate for Officer Mulkeen’s unit, a plainclothes anti-crime team responsible for patrolling stubborn pockets of violence in a city with crime rates at historic lows.
Often, that translated to making street stops.
The strategy is not without controversy. According to court records, Officer Mulkeen was sued in 2015 by a man who said he was falsely arrested. The charges were dropped and the city settled the lawsuit for $15,000.
The man, Joseph Speights, said he had been arrested on a spurious charge after he told Officer Mulkeen and his team that he was going to file a complaint against them for pulling him over in the Bronx.
Officer Mulkeen’s partner, Officer Brian Mahon, came under scrutiny early this year for making what a judge determined was an unconstitutional arrest. Officer Mahon had pulled a man over in the Bronx, and claimed he saw a bulge in the man’s pants that he believed was a gun. A gun was never found, but Officer Mahon did report finding cocaine.
Their final hours
Late Saturday night, Officer Mulkeen was riding shotgun with Officer Mahon. Another officer sat in the back seat. As they cruised the Edenwald neighborhood, Officer Mahon blasted John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” Their partner started recording as Officer Mahon sang along, smiling for the camera, according to video on Officer Mahon’s Facebook page.
The trio was patrolling the area after a spate of recent shootings. Days earlier, two groups had traded about 30 rounds of gunfire at 7:30 in the morning. Fearing more violence, the department sent in Officer Mulkeen’s unit.
The police said the officers spotted Mr. Williams, and for reasons that remain unclear, they stopped to question him.
A witness, Thomas Davis, said that Mr. Williams was standing with a second man near a green mailbox on the north side of East 229th Street when the unmarked police car rolled up slowly. When officers got out of the car, Mr. Williams ran across the street and between two buildings in the housing complex.
Officer Mulkeen sprinted after him. “Hey you! Stop running! Come here!” the officer yelled, according to Mr. Davis. Mr. Williams, he said, replied, “I didn’t do nothing. Why are you bothering me? Why are you after me?”
It is unclear whether the officers thought Mr. Williams had a gun.
Officer Mulkeen caught up to Mr. Williams and the two men began struggling. Mr. Williams reached for his waistband, the police said. The police said Officer Mulkeen can be heard yelling, “He’s reaching for it! He’s reaching for it!” on body-camera footage.
Body cameras worn by several of the officers recorded the encounter, according to police officials, but none of the video has been released publicly. The police commissioner said on Tuesday that some of the video would be released soon, but not all of it because it is part of an investigation by the Bronx district attorney’s office.
Officer Mulkeen fired his gun five times, the police said. His partners and three other officers who ran up to assist Officer Mulkeen heard the gunshots and some of them also fired weapons. The officers may have assumed they were being attacked — “Shots fired! Ambush!” one shouted over a police radio.
A police official who has seen the body-camera footage of the shooting said the officers appeared to be firing toward what looked like a dark heap on the ground. Officers fired a total of 10 rounds. Two struck Officer Mulkeen, one in the head and one in the torso. Mr. Williams was struck seven times, his girlfriend said. She said relatives told her that Mr. Williams also had a large gash under his eye and bruising.
In the chaotic aftermath, Officer Mulkeen’s partners can be heard on police scanners, screaming for an ambulance. Instead of waiting, they put him into a patrol car and raced to Jacobi Medical Center, but he could not be saved.
The .32-caliber revolver found near Mr. Williams, which his girlfriend confirmed was his, had never been fired.
It remains unclear whose bullets killed Officer Mulkeen and Mr. Williams. Reconstructing the scene and interviewing the officers involved could take weeks or months, the police said.
Firearms experts said there is little guidance during police training on what to do when a colleague is wrestling with an armed suspect. “Certainly, the death of their brother officer was not something they wanted to see happen,” said John C. Cerar, a former commander of the police firearms and tactics section.
But friends of Mr. Williams have said both deaths might have been avoided if Officer Mulkeen and the other officers had taken a different approach. “I can’t see somebody being praised when there was ways around a lethal situation,” Mr. Germosen said.
Ms. Montanez said Mr. Williams likely ran because he would have been sent back to prison if he were arrested. “Maybe he was in the wrong,” she said, “but he didn’t have to die.”
For Officer Mulkeen’s friends and colleagues, he was a model officer who acted courageously.
“He wanted to make the city better for everybody,” said Officer Matthew DiBuono, a former New York police officer who now works in Mamaroneck and has known Officer Mulkeen since their days at Fordham University. “A true cop’s cop.”
Susan Beachy contributed research and Nate Schweber contributed reporting.
Ali Watkins is a reporter on the Metro desk, covering crime and law enforcement in New York City. Previously, she covered national security in Washington for The Times, BuzzFeed and McClatchy Newspapers. @AliWatkins
Jan Ransom is a reporter covering criminal courts and jails in New York City. Before joining The Times in 2017, she covered law enforcement and crime for The Boston Globe. She is a native New Yorker. @Jan_Ransom
Edgar Sandoval is a metro reporter covering crime, courts and general assignments. @edjsandoval
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