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Man Slain in Harlem Gunfight Was Likely Killed by Police, Officials Say

By DNAinfo Staff on August 9, 2010 7:40pm  | Updated on August 10, 2010 7:21am

By Jon Schuppe and Mariel S. Clark

DNAinfo Staff

HARLEM — The 21-year-old Bronx man gunned down in a Harlem shootout early Sunday was shot six times, with the fatal bullet to his heart believed to have been fired by police, according to news reports.

The bullet retrieved from the body of Luis Soto entered near his left collarbone and struck his lung, pulmonary artery and his heart, where it killed him, said Ellen Borakove, spokeswoman for the medical examiner's office. He was also shot with 4 other bullets, which passed through him, and another bullet, which left him with a graze wound, Borakove said.

Police said the 9 mm bullet found inside Soto was consistent with the guns fired by NYPD officers at the scene, according to the Associated Press.

The development reverses the original description of the shooting by police officials, who said Sunday that Soto was gunned down by Angel Alvarez, 23, of Harlem. Police said at the time that Alvarez sparked the deadly shooting by killing Soto in a fight over a woman and then turning his gun on police.

Police said responding officers fired 46 bullets in the early-morning shootout. It was unclear whether the four other bullets that struck Soto were fired by police or Alvarez, the AP reported. Police reportedly recovered a .38 revolver from Alvarez.

Alvarez, who was in critical but stable condition at Harlem Hospital after suffering 23 gunshot wounds, had yet to be charged by police on Monday. The Manhattan District Attorney’s office is still investigating and has yet to bring charges against anyone.

His lawyer, John Carney, said it was a "miracle" that his client was still alive.

"He was bandaged throughout most of his body," Carney said. "It looked like he had sustained wounds in almost all parts of his body."

Carney said Alvarez had a tube down his throat and could not speak, but could still respond to questions. When asked whether he had a gun, Alvarez shook his head to say "no," Carney said.

The attorney told reporters he found several witnesses to the shooting, one of whom said Soto had the gun in his waistband and that the two men struggled for it during a fight over a girl. Commissioner Raymond Kelly confirmed at a press conference that the police department had also learned of reports that Soto may have had a gun and that he and Alvarez fought over possession of it.

"They were arguing. They were scuffling. The kid from the Bronx [Soto] pulled out a gun," witness Jaffar Toomes told the Daily News.

"The cops started to focus their attention on Angel. The cops started firing on Angel for no reason," Toomes said, according to the paper.

Soto's family's attorney denied that Soto had a gun, according to the News.

The gunfight took place at a block party on Lenox Avenue, between 143rd and 144th streets, just after 3 a.m. Sunday.

Alvarez and Soto, who had been feuding, faced off in the middle of the street and began trading punches, according to the Wall St. Journal. When Alvarez got the upper hand, Soto allegedly went for a gun in his waistband, sparking a struggle, the Journal reported.

Angel Alvarez in Harlem Hospital, Monday.
Angel Alvarez in Harlem Hospital, Monday.
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DNAinfo/Jon Schuppe

Officers responded, and when Alvarez turned his gun on police, officers opened fire, police said.

Two officers were injured in the crossfire. Officer Michael Tedeschi, 36, a three-year veteran and father of three was hit in the chest by a police bullet but was saved by his vest, police said. Officer Alfredo Vargas, 28, who joined the NYPD in 2008 was shot in the left hand, police said.

Members of Harlem's clergy, anti-violence activists and public officials including Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, spoke out against violence Monday on the corner where the shooting occurred.

"We cannot be complacent about us killing us," Rev. Vernon Williams said. "There has to be outrage."

Williams said he will lead daily marches through Harlem to engage young people in the street to help curb violence. The Rev. Al Sharpton and the National Action Network will host an "emergency town hall meeting" on the shooting Tuesday night at the House of Justice at 106 W. 145th St.