Jose Hernandez-Rossy, the man shot dead Sunday after a Buffalo police officer was shot in the ear during a struggle, had numerous run-ins with law enforcement authorities over the past three years, according to police sources.
But a cousin and neighbor of Hernandez-Rossy said that he was a good father of three children who had worked at a Tim Hortons coffee shop. They said they don't believe he was a gang member or drug dealer.
"This is unreal. He's not a bad person. He's a good person," said Phyo Zaw, Hernandez-Rossy's former girlfriend and the mother of two of his children. "He cared about his kids and family. He would do anything for his family."
Hernandez-Rossy, 26, of Germain Street, was shot to death by Officer Justin Tedesco at about 5 p.m. Sunday after he had wrestled with another officer, Joseph Acquino, and shot Acquino in the ear, according to Buffalo police. Acquino, who was in fair condition on Monday, is expected to live.
"He was struck by gunfire," police spokesman Michael J. DeGeorge said of Acquino.
Mayor Byron W. Brown and Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda said Acquino was doing well Monday at Erie County Medical Center following surgery late Sunday night to reattach his ear.
"He is very lucky to be alive," Brown told reporters after visiting the wounded officer at the hospital. "An inch difference," Brown said, "and this would have been a very different press conference."
Tedesco, who also was evaluated at ECMC following the incident, has been released from the hospital.
Derenda offered no new details about the investigation, only saying that the incident started when the suspect was pulled over for a traffic stop. He would not comment on the search for the gun believed to have been used by Hernandez-Rossy. Monday afternoon, Buffalo police were still searching for the weapon near the crime scene, at Garfield Street and Hartman Place in the city's Black Rock neighborhood.
[Gallery: Buffalo police officer wounded]
The state Attorney General's Office is aware of the shooting in Buffalo, and reviewing whether it should investigate it, spokeswoman Amy Spitalnick said Monday.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo issued an executive order in 2015 that appoints the attorney general – not county district attorneys – as a special prosecutor responsible for investigating the deaths of unarmed people that are caused by law enforcement officers.
This is the first time in 4 1/2 years that a Buffalo police officer has fatally shot a suspect.
An inch difference and this would have turned out different. pic.twitter.com/PPOGWAxpj6
— Maki Becker (@makibecker) May 8, 2017
According to a police source, Hernandez-Rossy accidentally shot himself June 6, 2016, on Germain Street in Buffalo. The source said shots had been fired at that location. Hernandez-Rossy was wounded while trying to put his gun away, the source said.
A sister and cousin of Hernandez-Rossy confirmed Monday that he accidentally shot himself last year, but declined to discuss the incident other than to say, "It wasn't gang-related."
In the last several years, he has been involved in several high-speed police pursuits in Buffalo and its suburbs after he was stopped by police for vehicle and traffic infractions, and then took off, according to the police source, who provided The Buffalo News with details about those cases. He also has been arrested several times after the mother of two of his children accused him of domestic violence.
Hernandez-Rossy has only one felony conviction in Erie County, according to court records. He pleaded guilty to attempted burglary in Erie County Court in 2010 and was sentenced to five years on probation. After violating his probation, Hernandez-Rossy was sentenced in 2012 to six months in jail.
There is a charge of harassment, a violation, pending against him in Buffalo City Court.
The outcome of other cases involving him could not be immediately determined.
Hernandez-Rossy is survived by three children, ages 7, 3 and 3 months old, according to one of his sisters, Yaira Hernandez.
She and other relatives and friends of Hernandez-Rossy said they are suspicious about the Buffalo Police Department's claims that Hernandez-Rossy was armed and shot Acquino because police have not found a gun they said Hernandez-Rossy used.
"We want justice," Yaira Hernandez said. "And we have a lawyer."
She and two cousins, Katherine Garcia and Javier Rossy, said Hernandez-Rossy was not involved in any gang.
"We want to know the truth," Garcia said. "There was no gun found. And if there's nothing wrong, we just want to know the facts."
Told that police have said they found heroin and cocaine in Hernandez-Rossy's car following Sunday night's shooting, Javier Rossy said, "I don't know if I believe that."
Lisa Corez, a neighbor of Hernandez-Rossy on Germain Street, said he used to work with her at a Tim Hortons on Niagara Street.
"He was a good kid, quiet and humble," Corez said. "He wasn't a person to show aggressiveness. He didn't have a bad bone in his body."
But a police source painted a different picture of the suspect.
Town of Tonawanda police pursued Hernandez-Rossy at speeds in excess of 80 miles per hour on Dec. 22, 2014, after stopping him for failing to use a turn signal, according to a police source. An officer smelled marijuana coming from Hernandez-Rossy's vehicle, and the suspect took off. Police called off the pursuit after Hernandez-Rossy lost them.
The police source said Buffalo police chased Hernandez-Rossy in another high-speed pursuit in February 2014, after officers said they observed a drug deal in the 1700 block of South Park Avenue and stopped a car that he was driving. Hernandez-Rossy took off, injuring an officer – Joseph Acquino. The car was later found abandoned and was towed. A summons was sent to Hernandez-Rossy, the police source said.
He was charged with third-degree assault, harassment and criminal contempt following an incident in May 2014 when Zaw, the mother of his two older children, accused him of slapping her. He was charged with criminal mischief a month before that when Zaw accused him of using a brick to smash a window of her father's car.
"I know there was a domestic violence history," Zaw said Monday. "But we were very young. And we grew up. He changed. And he was a great father."
Yaira Hernandez said that she last saw her brother on May 1 in Erie County Family Court, where he won custody of his two children with Zaw.
Relatives of Hernandez-Rossy declined to comment on his past run-ins with police or whether he had been convicted of any crimes.
Sunday's shooting occurred after Acquino and Tedesco had pulled over Hernandez-Rossy on Garfield Street and was being questioned by the officers, according to a police source. At some point, Hernandez-Rossy started driving away, dragging one of the officers, the source said. Hernandez-Rossy crashed through a row of hedges on the side of a house on Hartman Place before his car stopped.
Monday, a Peoria Street woman said it was scary when the shooting occurred.
Melissa Gormady said she had her headphones on when her mother yelled, "Go outside and get the girls."
Then she had heard "pop, pop, pop," Gormady said.
She ran outside of her home on Peoria Street where she saw the police officer. Then she saw the trail of blood that went across the sidewalk in front of her home, up the driveway and through a vacant lot.
After he was shot, Hernandez-Rossy ran about three blocks, through backyards, scaling two 4-foot fences, before he collapsed in the driveway of 568 Tonawanda St., according to residents of that area.
"We saw him lying in the driveway. My girlfriend called 911. He asked her not to call the police," said Jon Battison. "I ran out and flagged the police down."
While Gormady said she has heard of occasional drug dealing in the area, she said she has never experienced anything like what happened on Sunday.
"Not in my 35, 36 years since we moved here," she said.
Monday morning, detectives and a police K-9 unit were searching a driveway on Calumet Place where it appears the blood trail, which continued for a block, ends. A detective was seen opening and moving a trash tote.
Shortly after 1 p.m., Colleen Curtin Gable, the head of the Erie County District Attorney's Office Homicide Bureau, and Joseph Agro, a homicide prosecutor, toured the shooting scene with three members of the Buffalo police homicide unit.
The last time a Buffalo police officer fatally shot anyone was in 2012. Officer Kenneth Agee on Dec. 6, 2012, killed Issac C. Parker, 48, on Fillmore Avenue after he stopped Parker's vehicle for a faulty headlight and Parker took off in his vehicle, dragging two officers with him. The vehicle hit a streetlight pole, which fell over and killed an innocent bystander, Ida Murphy. An Erie County grand jury cleared the officer of any criminal wrongdoing.
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