Did a New York City cop try to silence outspoken police reformer Eric Adams with a bullet in 1996?
It’s a story that the Brooklyn Borough President and current mayoral front runner has told on the campaign trail — about how an unknown assailant pulled next to his car on a Brooklyn street early one morning that year and fired a shot that narrowly missed Adams, then an NYPD sergeant and public crusader against racist policing.
The story encapsulates the personal narrative Adams has pitched to voters while seeking the city’s highest office, one that portrays him as a fearless veteran of a more dangerous New York City whose unflagging commitment to public service has come at no small personal cost.
But with few published accounts of the story, some details about the episode remain obscure — including whether, as Adams has speculated, he was targeted by a fellow officer.
As a result, some of Adams’s opponents have become “suspicious” of the story, according to a New York Magazine article published last week. Rival campaigns feel “the narrative pieces have fallen in place too conveniently,” David Freedlander wrote.
So, is the story true? Streetsblog looked into it. Some parts of the narrative do indeed check out. Other parts could not be confirmed.
Our search for information about that January morning in 1996 led to the NYPD detective assigned to the case: Andre Parker, formerly of the 88th Precinct.
“It was one of the few cases I didn’t solve,” said Parker, who retired earlier this year after nearly 40 years on the force. “I just thought it was going to be a ground ball, but it turned out to be a nightmare for me.”
According to an account he gave THE CITY earlier this year, Adams was driving home a few hours before dawn after a night studying at a friend’s house for the lieutenant’s exam, which he eventually passed on his way to the rank of captain. After turning onto Classon Avenue, another car pulled up next to him and someone inside called out his name and pointed a gun at him, Adams told the outlet. Adams hit the gas, accelerating just in time for the bullet to miss him but shatter his car’s rear window, he said.
“They knew who I was, that was for sure,” Adams told THE CITY. “Thank God they called out my name. If they had just shot, I don’t believe I would have had time to respond.”
Adams, who the year prior had founded the advocacy group 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, floated the idea to The CITY that it was a fellow cop trying to kill him.
“It was at the peak of the fight with the police department. I don’t know if some officer, someone in their drunken rage, said, ‘Enough of this guy,’” said Adams, who would go on to lead the police reform group, 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care. “When I look back, I’m amazed I was able to get out of the department alive.”
Parker, for his part, remembers showing up to the scene and seeing Adams with his car in the middle of the street. Beyond the shot-out window, however, Parker didn’t recall finding other physical evidence, like bullet casings or shattered glass in the street.
Parker thought finding witnesses would be easy since he grew up in the neighborhood and knew “pretty much everybody on that block,” he said.
But no witnesses emerged.
“They didn’t see or hear anything,” Parker said. “It was just puzzling.”
After the shooting, Adams went to the 88th Precinct to report what had happened. But, strangely, “the sergeant on duty advised him not to file a report,” THE CITY reported, based on Adams’s account.
Streetsblog was unable to track down that sergeant, and Adams’s campaign said Friday that the candidate could not remember the officer’s full name. But another officer, who was a lieutenant in the 88th Precinct at the time, called that aspect of the story “incredibly implausible.”
“It’d be an absolutely astounding story that somebody would come into the precinct and say they were shot at, and the desk officer would say not to make a report,” said the retired lieutenant, who requested anonymously to speak candidly about the matter.
Asked about this Friday, Adams reiterated his account.
The sergeant “said, ‘You’re not injured, you should leave,’” Adams said.
A campaign spokesman said later that Adams did in fact file a report about the episode, the existence of which an NYPD official confirmed to Streetsblog.
Streetsblog could find only two contemporaneous news stories about the episode: an article in the Post and another in the Daily News the next day, both of which match Adams’s account.
As for Adams’s suggestion that the shooter could have been another officer, Parker said he didn’t remember finding any evidence supporting that idea.
“We followed several leads, you know: angry boyfriend, angry girlfriend, Southern racist group,” Parker said. Cop on a vendetta wasn’t one of them.
Another detective at the time in the 88th Precinct, where Adams himself would later work, told Streetsblog Adams’s public campaign to reform the department did not seem to bother most rank-and-file officers.
“I worked with him, my wife worked with him, and everybody I know that worked with him doesn’t have a bad thing to say about him,” said the detective, Thomas Donohue, who is now retired. “To point out other things that were going on back then that he was pointing out, I don’t think anybody really had a problem with it.”
A spokesperson for William Bratton, then NYPD commissioner, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Adams’s campaign did not respond to a list of questions about the episode or make the candidate available to discuss it. In a statement, campaign spokesman Evan Thies chalked up the speculation surrounding the story to politics.
“Eric’s opponents are doing anything that they can to try and discredit his well-documented record as an outspoken member of the NYPD who fought racism in the department,” he said. “There are still people in the NYPD from that period who do not want to see Eric become mayor because they know that he is going to reform the department for good.”