CLAREMONT, Bronx (WABC) -- A New York City police officer was shot in the arm in a gun fight with a suspect in the Bronx Tuesday night, in the latest shooting involving an armed man with a prior gun arrest.
The 32-year-old officer, Dennis Vargas, was treated and released from Lincoln Hospital as an outraged Mayor Eric Adams -- already scheduled to discuss recidivist criminals Wednesday afternoon -- wondered why 25-year-old Rameek Smith was still on the street.
"Who the hell will protect the innocent New Yorkers in this city?" he said. "That's the question we have to ask ourselves."
Vargas is the eighth NYPD officer wounded this year.
"We took 2,600 guns off our streets, and the shooters of those guns are back on our streets just like this person here," Adams said. "Under normal circumstances, you would see a decrease in crime in this city. But the same criminals are continuing to come out on our streets, committing violence over and over again. The city deserves better."
Officer Vargas and his partner, both in uniform, spotted Smith while on patrol near Third Avenue and Claremont Parkway around 10:45 p.m.
They got out of the car and approached him, and a foot chase ensued. When they got to Bathgate Avenue, Smith turned and fired two shots, police said, striking Vargas in the arm.
The officers returned fire, and Smith was struck in the head.
He was taken to St. Barnabas Hospital and died a short time later.
A .9-mm Glock handgun, stolen last year in Richmond, Va., was recovered at the scene.
Fellow police officers drove Officer Vargas in a police cruiser to Lincoln Hospital, and Mayor Adams and Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell rushed to be by his side.
He is an eight-year veteran, most recently assigned to the NYPD's Bronx Borough Public Safety Team. His father-in-law is also a police officer.
Vargas was treated at the hospital and released to a gathering of cheering officers shortly before 4:30 a.m. Wednesday.
"I have to commend our courageous officers," Sewell said. "This is what we ask them to do, and they're on the streets every day and night risking their lives on behalf of New Yorkers."
Details about the suspect, who was was awaiting sentencing next month after being caught with a .32 caliber handgun at a subway station in Brooklyn, continued to emerge Wednesday morning.
He last appeared in court on the case May 4.
"The arrest was March 2020, and for 20 months after the arrest, he remained on the streets," Adams said. "He finally pled guilty in December 2021. So you are asking yourself, 'He pled guilty in December 2021, why wasn't he in jail?' He was still out, waiting to be sentenced. The sentencing was pushed off for five months, and then you know what else happened? It was pushed off again."
Smith had nine arrests, two of them unsealed.
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