By Danny Schrafel
Sheldon Leftenant, a purported gang member accused of shooting Second Precinct officer Mark Collins after running from a traffic stop near East Jericho Turnpike and Mercer Court shortly before midnight Wednesday, was ordered held without bail after being arraigned in First District Court in Central Islip.
Leftenant, 22, of Tippin Drive in Huntington Station, fired four shots at Collins, striking him once in the neck and once in the hip, Suffolk County Assistant District Attorney Robert Biancavilla said in court.
A purported member of the Huntington-based Tip Top Boyz street gang with multiple prior arrests involving guns, Leftenant, who Suffolk County DA Thomas Spota said was found hiding in a shed, is accused of attempted aggravated murder of a police officer and faces 40 years to life in prison if convicted. Spota said he will seek the maximum penalty if Leftenant is convicted.
Dozens of uniformed Suffolk County police officers lined the packed courtroom – non-uniformed officers filled the benches, and a union leader said more than 100 turned out on short notice for the arraignment.
Meanwhile, Collins, 35, a decorated officer in the Second Precinct Crime Section’s anti-gang unit, was upgraded to stable condition, but remained in a medically-induced coma at Stony Brook University Medical Center. He is expected to survive, officials said.
“Even up to the point where they were wheeling him into the treatment room, he was calm. I couldn’t believe how calm and brave and strong he was,” Suffolk County PD Chief of Department James Burke said.
Spota said Leftenant, in an oral admission, told detectives, “ ‘I did what I had to do. I didn’t want to get caught with the gun on me, so I ran’.”
The gun he allegedly used, a .38-caliber handgun, was found in a neighboring yard, the DA said in a post-arraignment press conference outside the courtroom.
“We believe it’s a very, very strong case,” Spota said.
Leftenant pleaded not guilty. His attorney, Central Islip-based Ian T. Fitzgerald, said his client “maintains his innocence,” but declined to comment further because he had not seen the evidence in the case.
Police said Collins was conducting a traffic stop while in an unmarked car with two other officers near East Jericho Turnpike and Mercer Court. Spota said police pulled over the vehicle, which had four occupants, because they had passed the unmarked car and were swerving in and out of lanes of traffic at high speed.
During the traffic stop, as the driver turned over his license and registration, the two back-seat passengers were “fidgety, nervous, moving their hands in and out of their pockets,” Spota said.
The incident escalated when Leftenant bolted from the back seat and ran across Jericho Turnpike. Collins and another officer ran after him.
Dr. Steven Plosky Sr., whose son’s dental practice is located at the intersection, said surveillance video from his building showed two people running across his parking lot from Jericho toward Mercer Court. He turned the video over to authorities.
As Collins closed in, Leftenant -- who Collins later said he believed he had hit with a Taser -- opened fire, said Spota. Another officer found Collins lying in the street, “bleeding profusely” from his neck, Spota continued.
An intensive search involving police from several precincts and specialized units ended when Leftenant was located about a block away from the traffic stop, police said.
The driver and two remaining passengers were initially held, but have since been released, Spota said, adding they were interviewed and cooperated with law enforcement.
Police canvassed the small dead-end street for more than 11 hours, and the road reopened at around 11:25 a.m. Thursday. East Jericho Turnpike near Mercer Court reopened at approximately 8 a.m.
Mercer Court resident Frank Mataska, 61, who said he slept through the incident, said he woke up Thursday morning to scores of police on his block.
“I was moving cars around, and an officer approached me and asked me some questions,” he said.
Mataska, who has lived on the block for about three and a half years, said there has been trouble on the block before.
“I’m hoping it gets better. People seem to have an anti-attitude about authority,” he said. “Just threatening – you have to call the police to get people off your property, from damaging your property, things like that.”
In the meantime, the officer is “more important than anybody at this point,” he said.
“It’s terrible. Really terrible,” Mataska said. “We’re going to say some prayers for the man and hope for the best for him… It’s a shame.”
The accused gunman has a history of gun related arrests. On March 8, 2011 he was charged with first-degree robbery in which he allegedly displayed a firearm. The following year, he was one of 11 arrested in connection with a shooting outside the Lincoln Farms apartment complex in Huntington Station. In that case, three young men, ages 16-22, were sitting a Jeep Grand Cherokee in the parking lot when up to a dozen men surrounded the car. Police believe at least two of those men shot into the car, injuring the three occupants.
In that case, Leftenant pleaded guilty to a count of fourth-degree criminal facilitation and was sentenced to a year in the county jail and five years probation on Nov. 29, 2012.
Last August Leftenant was injured in a shooting outside his Tippin Drive home, initially reported as a possible drive-by shooting. According to police, a group of people were standing outside the home when two vehicles drove by and someone reportedly fired a gun at the group. A police source said at the time that Leftenant may have accidentally shot himself in the groin. Leftenant refused to cooperate with police.