OZONE PARK, NY (PIX11)—A long-time acquaintance of four Ozone Park men now accused as accomplices in the "close range" execution of a veteran NYPD officer said the suspects are being unfairly blamed for the actions of the gunman.
"That guy's a moron," Douglas Rodriguez of Ozone Park remarked to PIX 11 Wednesday about North Carolina native, Lamont Pride. "That guy just took all those kids' lives away...the guy who decided to pull the trigger."
Pride is accused of firing a bullet from his illegal, 9mm semi-automatic Ruger into Officer Figoski's face at 2:15 Monday morning, as he tried to flee a basement robbery at 25 Pine Street in Cypress Hills. One of the Ozone Park men, Kevin Santos, was believed to be the mastermind of the plot to rob a known pot dealer at that location.
Police say Nelson Moralez and Ariel Tejada, also of Ozone Park, initially posed as "Good Samaritans" on the street, after Officer Figoski was mortally wounded, but cops later accused them of being "look outs" for the robbery gone bad. The group allegedly took about $770 from the dealer and a cheap wrist watch. The Ozone Park friend observed, "If they all had left, they would have got a normal robbery charge for ripping off a pot dealer, which a lot of kids do."
"Nelly's not a cop killer," Rodriguez said of the 27-year-old Moralez. "I know him fifteen years."
Nelson Moralez was shot himself a couple of years ago outside his house on 84th Street in Ozone Park. He had previous arrests dating back to 2006, for robbery and criminal possession of marijuana. The FBI reportedly was looking to question him six months ago about a bank robbery.
The neighborhood acquaintance, Douglas Rodriguez, knew the nicknames for some of the other suspects. He told PIX 11 the accused getaway driver, Michael Velez, was known as "Trouble". Only 21, Velez had a previous arrest for attempted murder. Police said in 2009, he slashed a Richmond Hill man in the face in a gang-related attack. The victim needed 300 stitches on his face, and the case was dropped when the victim refused to testify in court! When PIX 11 went to Velez' family home on 102nd Avenue in Ozone Park, a woman yelled "No comment," while another woman inside the house told her to close the door. Velez also had previous arrests for possession of marijuana.
Kevin Santos, at 30, had eleven previous arrests, dating back to 1999. His first arrest was for marijuana possession. Santos was only paroled from prison two months ago, after serving time for robbery, only to get caught up again in this case that resulted in the death of a New York City police officer.
Ariel Tejada had the most minor of the criminal records--a 2007 arrest for burglary. Now he's charged as an accessory to the killing of a cop.
The accused getaway driver, Velez, had calmly walked away from the crime scene early Monday morning, after police boxed in his gold Nissan. He was captured on surveillance as he left the block. But another surveillance camera near a local bar caught him getting into a livery cab that had a triangular sticker on it. This helped detectives track down Velez to his cousin's house.
When we asked Velez' neighbor on 102nd Avenue about all these suspects coming from Ozone park, she said to PIX, "I stay to myself, go to work and mind my business."
An older man who's a long-time resident later remarked, "That's the neighborhood. You live with what you got."
It doesn't look like any of the Ozone Park suspects will be coming back to the neighborhood anytime soon.