Police shot and killed a man, and an NYPD officer was hit in the arm during an exchange of gunfire in the Claremont section of the Bronx Tuesday night, officials said.
Rameek Smith, 25, was walking near the intersection of Claremont Parkway and Third Avenue at 10:45 p.m. Tuesday night when two uniformed officers in an unmarked car, got out and tried to approach him, said Chief of Detectives James Essig, who spoke at a press conference with other city officials early Wednesday morning.
Smith fled and the officers chased him on foot for a block and a half at which point, Essig said, Smith turned around and fired two shots. The police officers — from the Bronx-borough Public Safety Team — shot back, hitting Smith in the head. He was rushed to Barnabas Hospital and was declared dead soon after.
Officer Dennis Vargas, 32, was shot in the arm in the exchange. He was hospitalized briefly and then released, according to police.
Police released an image of the handgun they said Smith fired at officers, adding it had been stolen from Richmond, Virginia last year. Smith's last listed address was a Staten Island homeless shelter, officials said, though he had family ties in the Bronx neighborhood where he was killed.
At the same press conference, NYPD Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell called Smith a “dangerous criminal who should not have been on the streets of the Bronx or anywhere else.”
Mayor Eric Adams seized on the shooting to once again criticize the state’s bail policies that he’s been lobbying state lawmakers to change.
He described Smith’s recent arrest history, saying he’d been caught with a gun while jumping a turnstile in March of 2020 in Coney Island. He was released on his own recognizance and eventually pleaded guilty to a felony charge of attempted criminal weapons possession in the third degree in December of last year, according to court records. His sentencing had been pushed back multiple times. He was due back in court on June 6th, records show.
“It’s time to stop protecting people who are committing crimes and violence,” Adams said in a seven-minute long speech where he praised police officers and excoriated those who criticized his efforts to crack down on low-level offenses like turnstile jumping and other minor infractions on the subways.
But Oren Yaniv, a spokesperson for the Brooklyn District Attorney said Smith had been charged with a bail eligible offense and prosecutors requested $50,000 bail. A judge released Smith on his own recognizance. Smith had been transferred to mental health court following evaluation of a court-appointed psychiatrist.
Redmond Haskins, a spokesperson for Legal Aid which was representing Smith in his open case, pushed back on characterizations from the mayor.
“Rameek Smith was a father and son. His tragic and untimely killing is devastating," Haskins said, adding Smith had complied with all the things the mental health court had required of him leading up to his killing.
"Mayor Adams and the New York City Police Department’s baseless claims that this case involves bail reform is patently incorrect and exposes the Administration’s continued refusal to comprehend the scope and benefits of these reforms," Haskins said in an email. "Lastly, we caution New Yorkers on crediting the Mayor’s unconscionable fear-mongering about last night’s killing. In the end, a young man, struggling with multiple ailments, had his life cut short, and the public should not lose sight of that regardless of incendiary comments from City Hall.”
Adams has recently taken flak for defending police officers seen in a viral video handcuffing a woman selling fruit and chocolate on the subway. He suggested allowing unlicensed fruit vendors would lead to people barbecuing or using propane tanks in city subways.
“The same criminals are continuing to come out in our streets committing violence over and over again,” Adams said. “The city deserves better.”
This story has been updated with new information.