Venezuelan migrant arraigned in Queens Supreme Court on attempted murder charges for shooting cops in East Elmhurst: DA

Photo courtesy of the NYPD

A Venezuelan migrant who entered Queens County Supreme Court in a wheelchair Wednesday morning was arraigned on a 20-count indictment on two counts of attempted murder and other crimes for allegedly shooting two NYPD officers in East Elmhurst on June 3.

Bernardo Raul Castro Mata, a 19-year-old homeless man, has been charged with two counts of attempted murder in the first degree after shooting Officer Christopher Abreu in the leg and Officer Richard Yarusso in his bullet-proof vest after they chased him on foot in East Elmhurst. The cops pursued Mata after he took off while they were trying to pull him over for riding the wrong way on a one-way street on an unregistered scooter. 

If convicted of the top counts, Mata faces a maximum sentence of up to 40 years to life in prison for each charge of attempted murder in the first degree.

“An attempt on the lives of two police officers simply making a traffic stop should offend every New Yorker,” Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz said.

According to the charges, at around 1:40 a.m. on Monday, June 3, Areu, Yarusso, and NYPD Sergeant Nicholas Condos were on patrol in an unmarked police vehicle while wearing NYPD uniforms. The officers and sergeant saw Mata on a scooter driving the wrong way down Ditmars Boulevard near 90th Street in East Elmhurst.

Police Officers Christopher Abreu and Richard Yarusso were treated at Elmhurst Hospital and released hours after the shooting. Photo courtesy of the NYPD

Mata got off his bike and fled the scene on foot when he saw the cops, but the officers caught up to him in the vicinity of 23rd Avenue and 89th Street. Abreu then attempted to place Mata under arrest, but he began resisting by twisting his body, flailing his arms, and reaching inside a bag he was wearing across his chest, according to authorities.

Yarusso tried to help his partner place Mata in handcuffs, and the officers struggled with Mata on the ground, at which point he pulled out a firearm from his crossbody bag and shot Yarusso in the lower chest at point-blank range. The officer’s vest stopped the bullet. Mata also shot Areu, striking him in the upper right thigh area.

Abreu returned fire, striking Mata in the foot and ankle area, causing him to let go of the firearm, and he was placed in handcuffs. Both officers survived their injuries and were released later on Monday morning from Elmhurst Hospital. Mata was transported to New York-Presbyterian Hospital in Flushing for treatment of his wounds.

Police recovered a loaded Hi-Point .380-caliber pistol at the scene as well as two deformed fired bullets, nine bullet fragments, three discharged .380-caliber shell casings, and four 9 mm discharged shell casings.

“The grand jury returned serious charges against the defendant, including two counts of attempted murder in the first degree,” Katz said. “The defendant is accused of shooting two New York City police officers at point-blank range after they attempted to stop him from driving the wrong way down a one-way street in East Elmhurst.”

Mata, who was homeless on the morning of the shooting, entered the U.S. illegally last July via the Rio Grande at Eagle Pass, Texas—a hotspot for record-high migrant crossings—and subsequently moved to Queens, police said. He resided at The Landing Family Shelter, housed in the former Marriott Courtyard Motel on Ditmars Boulevard near LaGuardia Airport, just blocks from the crime scene, before he was evicted in May.

Queens Supreme Court Justice Kenneth Holder remanded Mata without bail and ordered him to return to court on Sept. 16.

“This dangerous individual wasn’t afraid to shoot at New York City police officers because he thought he was going to get away with it,” PBA President Patrick Hendry said. “We’re thankful that this courthouse is backing up police officers. Police officers need to be backed every single day on the streets of the City of New York.”