Four men face assault and robbery charges, and one was expected to be charged with attempted murder, after an informant was shot Thursday night during an undercover gun buy in the Wal-Mart parking lot, authorities said.
Joseph J. Green, a special agent and local spokesman for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said Friday the shooting victim, whose identity was not released, was working with the agency but was not a police officer or agent. The man, he said, suffered a serious leg wound that was not considered life-threatening.
Four Niagara Falls residents -- Garry N. James Jr., 22, of Michigan Avenue; Alphonso F. Moody, 20, of Ninth Street; Devincio K. James, 17, of Michigan Avenue; and Jermaine G. Ellison, 19, of Grove Avenue -- each were charged with three first-degree felony counts of robbery with injuries, robbery with a deadly weapon and criminal use of a firearm. Niagara Falls police, who provided surveillance for the operation, filed the charges.
During arraignment Friday, Niagara Falls City Judge Angelo J. Morinello set bail at $15,000 for each defendant, and the four were taken to Niagara County Jail.
They also will face federal charges, including robbery, according to the U.S. attorney's office in Buffalo. Both Moody and Garry James face attempted assault charges for shooting at officers who moved in after the gun buy went awry, prosecutors said.
Gary James was expected to be charged with attempted murder in the shooting of the informant, authorities said.
Green said the drama unfolded at about 8:30 p.m. in a remote part of the Wal-Mart parking lot on Porter Road, after the expected gun buy turned into a "rip" -- or heist.
"We were going to purchase five weapons, four handguns and a rifle," he said. "The subject showed us the first gun, a Tech 9 -- a 9mm semiautomatic pistol. Then he said that was all he had, and it became a straight rip."
With the informant in the driver's seat, Moody in the passenger seat and Gary James in the back seat, behind the informant, things started to go wrong, Green said.
Garry James told detectives he asked the operative if he was working for the police, according to court papers.
"[The operative] started to act real crazy and reached into his pocket for his cell phone," he said.
Gary James told police he was carrying a .22-caliber pistol in his pocket for protection and put in the clip.
"I tried to get out, but the door was locked. . . . I got nervous and shot one time in [his] direction. I fired one time at the [the ATFE vehicle] because I thought they were his people," Gary James said in a statement.
The operative said that after he was shot, he was able to get out of the car and run when ATFE agents surrounded the vehicle.
Moody told detectives he was also nervous but was shocked when Gary James pulled out a gun and threatened to "pop" the operative.
Green said Ellison and Devincio James were conducting surveillance from a second car, authorities said.
Moody surrendered after a quick foot chase, and the informant's cell phone and cash were recovered near some dumpsters, Green said.
Town of Niagara Police Chief James Suitor said his department had "no idea" what was going on until receiving a call reporting shots. He said the department had received no communication from the ATFE as of Friday afternoon.
"I was quite disappointed," he said. "Events like this put the safety of shoppers in jeopardy, as well as law enforcement who had no idea what was happening. I've heard concerns from civilians."
Niagara Falls Police Superintendent John Chella said his officers, while providing surveillance, were not part of the investigation.
Green defended the operation.
"We try to minimize exposure to the general public and looked at the hour," Green said. "We had the place under surveillance and had cover teams from the Niagara Falls Police, [ATFE] and [Immigration and Customs Enforcement]."