‘Friendly fire’ claims life of detective, injures sergeant during robbery at Richmond Hill store

Two cops were shot, including one fatally, in Richmond Hill on Feb. 12
Photo via Facebook/Robert Stridiron

A 19-year veteran of the NYPD lost his life on Tuesday night and a fellow officer suffered injuries in an apparent case of friendly fire while responding to a robbery at a Richmond Hill cellphone store, it was reported.

Detective Brian Simonsen, 42, of the 102nd Precinct Detective Squad and a sergeant with the squad responded to a 911 call about the heist inside the T-Mobile store located at 91-62 120th St., just after 6 p.m. on Feb. 12. Simonsen sustained a gunshot wound to the chest that proved fatal; the sergeant was hit in the leg and is in stable condition at Jamaica Hospital.

During a press conference at Jamaica Hospital, Police Commissioner James O’Neill indicated that the incident “appears to be a tragic case of friendly fire,” as officers began firing on a suspected robber inside the store who appeared to be holding a gun and was walking toward them.

The suspect — whom O’Neill described as a 27-year-old man and a “career criminal” — was shot multiple times and is now hospitalized in stable condition. The weapon he held turned out to be an imitation firearm that police recovered at the scene.

Police Commissioner and James O’Neill address the media at Jamaica Hospital on Feb. 12. (Photo: Mark Hallum/QNS)

Make no mistake about it, friendly fire aside, it’s because of the actions of the suspect that Detective Simonsen is dead,” O’Neill said.

O’Neill and Mayor Bill de Blasio met with Simonsen’s wife and mother at Jamaica Hospital. The mayor expressed the remorse of an entire city over the detective’s loss.

“To go into a situation where people’s lives are in danger, where there’s someone with a weapon, our officers, our detectives and our sergeants go in selflessly to protect others,” de Blasio said. “That bravery and that resolve is something we all need to understand, even though most of us have never experienced that kind of split second decision-making.”

Detective Brian Simonsen (photo via Twitter/@NYPDNews)

The incident reportedly took place just after 6 p.m. on Feb. 12 at a T-Mobile store located at Atlantic Avenue and 120th Street, within the confines of the 102nd Precinct.

Based on preliminary investigation, O’Neill said, the NYPD received multiple 911 calls about the reported robbery. One caller claimed that an armed man had been holding several people inside the store at gunpoint.

Simonsen and the sergeant, who were in the area on an unrelated matter, responded to the 911 calls along with other 102nd Precinct officers. O’Neill said that they went into the store to get a closer look, after being unable to see anything from the street.

Upon walking into the store, O’Neill said, Simonsen and the sergeant spotted the suspect, who fit the reported perpetrator’s description, holding what appeared to be a handgun. The officers discharged their weapons as the suspect advanced toward them, the commissioner said, and they retreated from the shop.

Forensic detectives inside the T-Mobile store (Photo via Facebook/Robert Stridiron)

When the gunfire ended, officers discovered that Simonsen had been shot in the chest. Several cops took Simonsen in a patrol car to Jamaica Hospital, where he died a short time later. With the help of a civilian, the sergeant was also taken to Jamaica Hospital for treatment.

The NYPD warned the public via Twitter to avoid the scene.

“Due to police activity, please avoid the area of Atlantic Ave and 120th Street in Queens,” a tweet from @NYPDnews posted at 6:31 p.m. read. “Expect a heavy police presence. Updates to follow.”

The investigation remains ongoing.

“This is an absolute tragedy,” O’Neill added. “The worst outcome any police officer, or a family of a police officer, can ever imagine.”

This story was updated on Feb. 12 at 11:10 p.m. Mark Hallum and Robert Pozarycki contributed to this report.