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Suspect shot fatally in confrontation with officer

A struggle on Tonawanda Street early Sunday resulted in a Buffalo police officer found blacked out on the street and a suspect shot at close range.

The officer was taken to Erie County Medical Center, where he was treated for head and eye injuries before being released. The suspect, said to be in his 20s, was arrested soon after being shot, and taken to Erie County Medical Center, where he died later Sunday morning.

Police said the incident occurred at about 5 a.m. on Tonawanda Street, in the Black Rock section of Buffalo.

Police did not release the names of the officer or the suspect.

The string of events that led to the violent confrontation between the officer and suspect is believed to have begun earlier in the morning, when a marked police cruiser was stolen on Fillmore Avenue.

A call went out on the police radio, and an officer spotted a man on the 700 block of Tonawanda Street who resembled the suspect who stole the police car. It is not known if the man was the car thief or not.

But when the officer approached the suspect, the man ran, Chief of Detectives Dennis J. Richards wrote in an email released by police spokesman Michael J. DeGeorge. The officer caught the suspect, but as the officer tried to handcuff him, a struggle followed, Richards said.

The suspect was grabbing toward the officer's right side, where his gun is, then punched the officer in the eye, according to Thomas Burton, an attorney for the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association.

The officer had been repeatedly hit in the head and was on the ground at this point, on his back, Burton said. When he looked up, the suspect was coming at him again. The officer fired one shot from his weapon, hitting the suspect, Richards said.

Neither Burton nor Richards said what part of the man's body was hit by the bullet.

"The suspect then fled," Burton said. "The officer didn't know that he hit him."

The officer tried to get up but fell back down on the ground. He spotted a number on a telephone pole and sent a message over the radio with his location based on that number, Burton said.

When backup officers arrived, they found the officer lying facedown and unconscious in the middle of the road, Burton said.

Police spotted the suspect farther down Tonawanda Street. The man briefly struggled with the officers, but they were able to handcuff him. Once the man was handcuffed, police realized he had been shot and took him to ECMC, Burton said.

The suspect died in ECMC. Police are continuing to investigate if he was the man who stole the police car from Fillmore Avenue.

"I haven't seen a criminal history, but I will bet you dollars to doughnuts that he has a history of violent crime and of fighting with police in the past," Burton said. "This matches a classic pattern "

"You fight with a uniformed police officer, punch him repeatedly, ignore the fact that the officer has a gun in his hand. It is little wonder you get yourself shot," Burton said, adding, "This is a great example of why street cops can never let their guard down."

The officer met with homicide detectives Sunday.

email: sschulman@buffnews.com