Venezuelan migrant awaiting arraignment for allegedly wounding two cops in East Elmhurst early Monday morning

Venezuelan migrant Bernando Raul Castro Mato, who entered the U.S. illegally nearly a year ago before finding shelter in Queens, allegedly robbed women while riding illegal scooters with his accomplices.
Photos courtesy of the NYPD

A Venezuelan migrant is expected to be arraigned Wednesday morning for his alleged involvement in a shootout with police in East Elmhurst during the early morning hours of Monday, June 3. He will be criminally charged from his hospital bed at New York-Presbyterian where he is currently recovering from surgery after getting injured during the gunfight.

Charges are still pending against 19-year-old Bernardo Raul Castro Mato, according to an NYPD spokeswoman, who was shot in the foot after he allegedly shot Officer Richard Yarusso, 26, in his bullet-proof vest and his partner, Officer Christopher Abreu, also 26, in his leg, just before 2 a.m. on Monday.

Castro Mata, who, according to police, 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. He resided at The Landing Family Shelter, housed in the former Marriott Courtyard Motel on Ditmars Boulevard near LaGuardia Airport. Castro Mata allegedly engaged in criminal activities, targeting women in various Western Queens police precincts alongside two accomplices, utilizing illegal scooters and mopeds for mobility.

The two cops from the 115th Precinct public safety unit were canvassing the area near Vaughn College when they came across Castro Mata along 23rd Avenue and 89th Street as he rode in the wrong direction on the one-way street. They pulled him over and Castro Mata ditched his ride and made a run for it, exchanging gunfire with the cops during a foot pursuit that culminated with all three men being struck by bullets.

Castro Mata was taken into custody and his illegal .380 handgun was recovered at the crime scene half a mile away from The Landing, from which Castro Mata was evicted in mid-May, according to Council Member Francisco Moya.

Castro Mato allegedly used this .380 handgun to shoot at two cops out of the 115th Precinct early Monday morning in East Elmhurst. His arraignment is pending. Photo courtesy of the NYPD

“Every day, the dedicated members of the NYPD risk their lives to protect our communities, a tragic reality made clear by this morning’s shooting of Officers Christopher Abreu and Richard Yarusso in East Elmhurst,” Moya said following the shooting.

Yarusso was grazed in his stomach after a bullet struck his vest and he rushed to his partner’s side to stanch the bleeding with a tourniquet on his leg. Both men were rushed to Elmhurst Hospital, where they were treated and released hours later.

Cops leaving Elmhurst Hospital hours after the shooting. Photo courtesy of the NYPD

“While I am relieved their injuries were non-life-threatening and the suspect is in custody, no act of violence against our police officers can ever be tolerated,” Moya said. “Even though this incident did not occur in my district, our entire community stands united in wishing these brave officers a full and rapid recovery.”

State Senator Jessica Ramos, who represents the neighborhood, was informed by the 115th Precinct on Monday morning and expressed relief on social media. “I’m thankful no lives were lost and wish the officers a quick recovery,” Ramos wrote. “Getting guns off our streets can’t just be a talking point. The lives of our neighbors and those who protect them are at stake.”

After visiting with the wounded cops, Mayor Eric Adams held up the bullet-proof vest that saved Yarusso from a potentially mortal wound. NYPD Chief of Detectives Joseph Kenny spoke of the surge of criminals using illegal scooters and mopeds in 80 separate robbery patterns across the five boroughs.

“These crimes include shootings, robberies and phone snatches,” Kenny said. “Just to paint you a quick picture of how many of these crimes are being committed. [From] Jan. 1 to June 1, 2022, zero robbery patterns involving motorized scooters or motorcycles. [In] the same time period, 2023, 20 robbery patterns. Year to date so far this year, [from] Jan. 1 to June 1, 2024, we have over 80 robbery patterns citywide involving incidents where the perpetrators are riding motorized scooters or motorcycles.”

It is precisely why Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz has launched a series of crackdowns on illegal mopeds and scooters after Brooklyn’s Thomas Abreu allegedly went on a bloody rampage through the streets of Richmond Hill, leaving an 86-year-old grandfather dead and wounding two others on the morning of July 8, 2023.

Last month, Katz announced the seizure of 95 scooters from the streets of Elmhurst, Corona and Long Island City streets, bringing a total of 412 scooters removed since the start of the ongoing enforcement operations by the NYPD and detectives from her office.

Recent crackdowns by the NYPD and detectives from the Queens DA’s office have taken more than 400 illegal scooters and mopeds off the streets. Photo courtesy of the DA’s office
Photo courtesy of the DA’s office

“Unregistered scooters are not only illegal but they are also being used to commit violent crimes, including shootings and robberies, without any accountability or ability to identify the culprit,” Katz explained. “Through our proactive enforcement efforts in collaboration with the NYPD, we have taken more than 400 of these illegal vehicles off our streets, enhancing safety and security for our communities. Our proactive enforcement efforts will continue to ensure compliance and eradicate the public threat they pose.”