Source: New York Times (NY)
Author: Robert D. McFadden
Pubdate: Sat, 28 Feb 1998


NEW YORK -- A police sergeant leading an undercover buy-and-bust operation
was wounded and a drug suspect was killed in a burst of gunfire early
Friday as they wrestled in a notorious crack house in Brooklyn. 

The police said the sergeant, who was saved by his bulletproof vest, may
have been shot by backup officers. 

Investigators said 11 shots were fired by the sergeant and two backup
officers in scenes of wild and bloody confusion as the sergeant grappled
with two suspects in the narrow hallway of a tenement abandoned by all but
the drug trade at 325 Franklin Ave., in Bedford-Stuyvesant. 

The struggle, moments after an undercover officer had bought $20 of crack
in the hallway and emerged safely, ended with Sgt. Dexter Brown, 35, a
highly decorated 13-year police veteran, shot in the lower back, and a
suspect, Steven Service, 20, dead with bullets in the head, torso and leg.
Three other suspects were seized but a fourth escaped. 

No nonpolice weapons were found at the scene, and the police said that,
pending ballistic tests and further investigation, it was unclear if the
sergeant was shot by his partners with his own gun in the struggle, or
perhaps by the suspect who got away. 

But a narcotics supervisor said the sergeant had most likely been hit by
the gunfire of backup officers who rushed in to save him from what they saw
as a life-and-death struggle. 

It was not a case of mistaken identity, he said, as has happened in several
other police undercover shootings by officers. "It looks like an accident,"
said the supervisor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. He said three
shots were fired from the sergeant's gun and eight from the backup
officers' weapons. One potentially fatal shot hit the sergeant in the back,
but did not penetrate his vest, while another entered his lower back and
came out his side. 

One of 5,000 buy-and-bust operations every year, Friday's operation by a
four-member team of the Brooklyn North Narcotics unit began at 1:40 a.m.
The target was a dilapidated two-story red-brick building that had been the
subject of many complaints from the neighborhood. It had been raided before. 

One undercover officer, steered in by an accomplice working in the street,
entered the hallway to buy drugs, the police said. He wore no bulletproof
vest, because buyers are often searched and a vest would have given him away. 

After he bought crack and emerged safely to report that there were three or
four suspects inside, Brown, the recipient of many citations for his 200
career arrests, including 130 felonies, led the charge to make the arrests. 

Crashing through a red metal door, the sergeant was met by two Brooklyn men
with criminal pasts: Service, of 445 Schenck Ave., and Nathan Stone, 21, of
42 Pulaski St., both with records for robbery, drugs and other offenses. As
Service wrestled with the sergeant, grappling for his weapon, Stone yoked
the sergeant from behind. As the three men struggled on the floor, three
shots were fired from the sergeant's gun. 

At that point, two of the three backup officers rushed in and opened fire,
the police said. Service rolled away, fatally wounded, and Stone was seized
and handcuffed. 

Also seized were Carman Catala, 46, the accomplice who had steered the
officers in from the street, and Juan Herrera, about 19; their addresses
were unknown. A fourth suspect in the building escaped and was at large
Friday night, the police said. Brown was taken to Kings County Hospital,
where he was in stable condition Friday night. The police said he was
expected to recover fully. 

At the hospital, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani spoke of "an excellent job" by
officers exposed to "tremendous danger."