When rescue workers and citizens began performing first aid on Buffalo police Officer Joseph Acquino, whose right ear was nearly torn off, a startling discovery was made.
Clutched in one of Acquino's hands was a large plastic bag containing more than 100 smaller bags of suspected heroin.
Two law enforcement sources say Acquino had grabbed the drugs during a struggle inside Jose Hernandez-Rossy's vehicle and he held onto the evidence despite being wounded and collapsing face down on Garfield Street.
As Acquino cried out that he had been shot, his partner, Officer Justin Tedesco fatally shot Hernandez-Rossy as the suspect fled on foot from the scene in Black Rock, according to Buffalo police. That was on May 7, and additional details about the seized drugs emerged Monday.
"The heroin was packaged for street sale," said one of two law enforcement sources familiar with the case.
In addition to the drugs Acquino grabbed, officers also removed suspected cocaine from Hernandez-Rossy's 2011 Acura MDX after the suspect was shot, according to the two law enforcement sources.
Attorney Thomas H. Burton, who represents Tedesco, described Acquino clutching heroin from the suspect's car as "an interesting development."
"It shows that Acquino managed to do his job and retain key evidence by hanging onto felony amounts of narcotics, even though he thought he had been shot. It is pretty remarkable," Burton said.
Attorney Nelson Torre, who represents Hernandez-Rossy's family, said he did not know if he could believe Acquino was in possession of the drugs since it conflicted with what Burton has previously said.
"The story keeps changing so fast and so often from the police lawyer that I don't know how to respond to that. I heard the police lawyer last week say that they took the drugs out of the SUV, " Torre said.
[Photo gallery: Vigil for Jose Hernandez-Rossy]
In another development on Monday, The Buffalo News has learned that Tedesco voluntarily gave a statement to Buffalo homicide detectives and representatives of the state Attorney General's Office – the agency in charge of the investigation.
Burton said he could only confirm the interview occurred.
Torre is also now raising questions on the initial scenario of how the situation spun out of control and turned deadly.
He says he is not convinced the officers had, in fact, stopped Hernandez-Rossy's sport utility vehicle prior to it crashing into a house at the intersection of Garfield Street and Hartman Place with Acquino partially inside the SUV.
Police sources have previously said that Tedesco forced the SUV to a stop by pulling diagonally in front of it. They took the action after spotting Hernandez-Rossy allegedly smoking a marijuana blunt and refusing to stop, the sources said. Police sources and Burton have said that Hernandez-Rossy refused to show his hands when his car was stopped and Acquino opened the driver's side door, reached inside and felt what he thought was a weapon inside Hernandez-Rossy's front pocket.
Torre says it is more likely, based on evidence and statements he has taken from witnesses, that Tedesco, making use of a "P.I.T." maneuver – pursuit immobilization technique – rammed Hernandez-Rossy's SUV and sent it into the house.
"Nelson simply does not know what happened," Burton responded.
The AG's investigation is looking into all aspects of the case, including questions raised on whether Hernandez-Rossy was armed since no gun was found in the neighborhood.
Acquino has told investigators he was shot. Police spokesman Michael J. DeGeorge last Tuesday issued a statement that Acquino was struck by gunfire. But that same day in some police circles the question was raised on whether the deployment of the SUV's airbag might have caused Acquino's injury.
The AG's investigation is expected to address that question.