With reporting from Murray Weiss, Jeff Mays, Eddie Small, Julia Bottles and Michael P. Ventura
THE BRONX — Two NYPD officers were injured during a confrontation with a gunman who died after shooting himself in the head because he didn't want to go back to prison, police and sources said.
Three uniformed officers were on a vertical patrol inside the Melrose Houses, at 320 E. 156th St., at roughly 8 p.m. when they encountered two men in a sixth-floor stairwell, police said.
One of the men, identified by police sources as 23-year-old Malik Chavis, pulled a gun and opened fire before fleeing up to the seventh floor, police said. He hit two of the officers and the third fired one shot back, sources said.
Chavis ran to an apartment where he told a woman there that he "can't go back to the can," meaning prison, and asked her to shoot him in the head, sources said.
When she refused, he shot himself in the head.
Responding officers tracked Chavis to the apartment where they found him dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to First Deputy Commissioner Benjamin Tucker.
Chavis has a lengthy criminal history. He's previously been charged with assault, robbery and grand larceny, according to the Bronx District Attorney’s Office.
He spent roughly three years behind bars on two counts of attempted robbery and was released in November 2011, according to the state Department of Correction.
A .32-caliber handgun and a shotgun were recovered from the apartment after the shooting, police said. Two officers — Patrick Espeut, 29, and Diara Cruz, 24, who both have about two years on the force — were injured, sources and police said.
Espeut was shot in the face — the bullet entered his nose and exited just before his right ear, sources said. Cruz was hit three times: in the neck, in the torso under her bulletproof vest and in the leg.
Both were "alert and stable," and taken to Lincoln Hospital, police said.
Two on-duty police officers have been shot in the Bronx tonight. Current conditions are not life threatening at this time. Updates to follow— NYPD NEWS (@NYPDnews) February 5, 2016
Espeut is expected to be released Friday, but Cruz won't likely be released anytime soon, according to the NYPD.
The man who was in the stairwell with the shooter is in custody and police are interviewing several individuals who were in the apartment.
Police say Chavis knew someone in the apartment who let him in. After the shooting, police were seeking a search warrant for the apartment.
Officers are still trying to figure out what people were doing in the hallway of the building but believe they may have been conducting a drug deal that turned into a robbery.
Angelique Kearse, 39, who lives on the seventh floor of the building with her seven kids, was home during the incident.
"I was getting my kids ready to go to bed and suddenly I heard a few gunshots," Kearse said.
"I was very scared. I was like oh my god, I was about to call the police when I heard 'shots fired! shots fired!' So I knew police was already there. And then they came, a whole bunch of them, maybe 20 cops," Kearse continued.
The mayor raced to Lincoln Hospital after delivering his annual State of the City speech 5 miles away at Lehman College.
"It's another example of what our officers confront every single day keeping us safe, not only on the streets of New York City, but in the stairwells and hallways of our public housing developments," Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a press conference at Lincoln Hospital.
Cops shot during @BilldeBlasio State of the City speech where mayor talked about NYPD gun suppression squad & expanding shot spotter.— Jeff Mays (@jeffcmays) February 5, 2016
He was unaware of the incident while delivering his remarks, but was briefed as soon as he left the stage.
During the speech the mayor thanked individual police officers for their “extraordinary acts of heroism,” and praised the NYPD for what he called “the safest January on record” last month. There were many officers in the audience.
“New Yorkers are safer now than they’ve been at any point in modern history,” he said.
He touted lower crime in New York City, including a 3 percent drop in shootings in 2015 and a nearly 10 percent increase in gun arrests.
De Blasio also spoke about the expansion of the NYPD’s “One City: Safe and Fair Everywhere” program, which assigns dedicated officers to patrol neighborhood streets, to 11 more precincts.
“It asks the people of our neighborhoods and the police officers sworn to protect them, to do the work of building trust,” he said.
Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch said the shooting highlighted the "difficulty and danger" of vertical patrols.
"We need your support to tell us when someone is carrying a gun. We need your support to teach our young folks that pulling a gun on a police officer works for no one," Lynch said.
Vertical patrols, where officers walk each floor and stairwell of a housing complex, have been under scrutiny recently after NYPD Officer Peter Liang accidentally shot and killed unarmed Brooklyn man Akai Gurley, 28, while on a vertical patrol in East New York's Pink Houses in November 2014.
Liang is currently standing trial for criminally negligent homicide.