DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN, NY (PIX11)—High-resolution surveillance video, extensive ballistic evidence and three eyewitnesses all tie Luis "Baby" Ortiz to the shooting and attempted murder of NYPD Officer Kevin Brennan, but Ortiz's lawyer insists that the 21 year-old with a long rap sheet is innocent of trying to shoot the plainclothes cop.
Ortiz's entrance into the arraignment courtroom at the Brooklyn Courthouse late Thursday morning was a sharp contrast to how he'd left the police precinct where he had been detained Wednesday evening before being driven to court. There, he was surrounded by detectives, but in full view of family members and supporters, who cheered, while Ortiz blew kisses and said "I love you," and "I love the Latin Kings" gang.
In court on Thursday, there was no cheering. Instead, at least four dozen cops filled the courtroom to standing room only capacity in support for Brennan, the crime prevention unit cop who got shot in the back of the head Tuesday night. Prosecutors say that Ortiz, 21, pulled the trigger of a gun he had used to taunt Officer Brennan and two other officers Brennan was with, by holding the gun out after the plainclothes officers had spotted Ortiz, a suspect in the January 1st murder of Shannon McKinney, a known drug user in the Bushwick Houses, where he and Ortiz lived.
After spotting Ortiz, prosecutors say, the three officers followed him in a car, then ran after him when Ortiz ran toward buildings in the Bushwick Houses public housing project. After Ortiz ran into the basement of 370 Bushwick Avenue, Brennan followed. A door behind him closed and locked before Brennan's fellow officers could enter. Brennan stayed in hot pursuit, and he and Ortiz ended up in a struggle, wrestling in a basement corridor, according to prosecutors, who also confirm something police commissioner Ray Kelly has said, that surveillance cameras recorded the struggle that resulted in Ortiz getting Brennan in a head lock.
At that point, prosecutors say, the high resolution surveillance video shows Ortiz shooting Officer Brennan just behind his ear, leaving the officer lying on the floor, bleeding as his fellow officers come to his aid after getting into the building themselves.
"This was just an evil act by an evil person," assistant district attorney Lewis Lieberman said in a news conference after Ortiz's arraignment. "One can only be overwhelmed by the evil that this defendant committed... It was an assassination attempt" said Lieberman, who had interviewed Brennan's fellow officers at the 90th Precinct after the shooting, and who on Thursday successfully argued that Ortiz be held at Rikers Island with no bail throughout his trial, which could take years.
During the hearing in which that happened, Ortiz at times looked into the audience behind him, possibly searching, in vain, according to his lawyer, for family members and supporters. Wednesday evening, they not only cheered for him outside the precinct where he had been held before being transferred to court, some of them slugged and slapped photographers who were on hand recording Ortiz's transfer.
However, Ortiz's own court-appointed attorney pointed out in court Thursday that his client has a lengthy record, much of it sealed because Ortiz was convicted of the crimes when he was a juvenile. It includes multiple drug arrests, assaults, setting fires in buildings where he lives. He was also convicted in Goshen, in Orange County upstate for gang assault, and he was also arrested in prison for contraband possession.
Despite Ortiz's criminal history, his attorney, Eric Poulos, insists, "He's not guilty. We're pleading not guilty." Poulos said in a news conference that the complaint against his client does not specifically say that Ortiz shot Brennan. The lawyer also said that the surveillance video is not conclusive because it does not specifically identify Ortiz. Poulos also said in court that arresting officers and other NYPD personnel physically abused his client. "He has a prominent bruise [over his eyebrow], a cut lip and a chipped tooth, and other injuries I couldn't see because he was handcuffed," Poulos said.
In the meantime, Officer Brennan continues a slow but steady recovery. He has not been able to talk with prosecutors since the Tuesday night shooting, but as his recovery continues, he is expected to identify his shooter, and investigators are convinced that Brennan will point to Ortiz.
They also say that the bullets left in the gun that has been linked to Ortiz match the bullet that was successfully removed from Brennan's head in surgery, and they say that three eyewitnesses identified Ortiz as the person whom they saw fleeing the shooting scene. Ortiz's case goes before a grand jury on Monday, February 6th.