Frustration May Have Led Parolee to Shoot Officer
He had fired a bullet into his parole officer’s upper chest on Thursday evening, the police said, and now Robert Morales was aiming at the officer’s face and trying to pull the trigger again to kill the officer, which would probably send him back to prison for good. That, the police said, is what Mr. Morales, 50, told investigators after he was tackled and taken into custody when he opened fire on the officer, Samuel Salters, 49, at their 7 p.m. meeting at a parole reporting station in Downtown Brooklyn.
But his gun, a 9-millimeter Ruger, jammed, and Mr. Morales, who was released on lifetime parole in 2002 after serving 25 years for his role in a 1977 fire that killed an 8-year-old boy, dropped the weapon. Mr. Sanders, who took his case in February, “treated him like a little kid,” Mr. Morales told the authorities, according to court papers.
As Mr. Morales was arraigned on Friday on charges including attempted murder, and was ordered held without bail, Officer Salters was in guarded condition at a Manhattan hospital. Meanwhile, questions swirled about how Mr. Morales got the gun into the parole office at 33 Schermerhorn Street to begin with, and why that office — and more than 40 others across the state — did not have metal detectors in place.
Mr. Morales told investigators he knew the office had no metal detectors. He said that he had simply found the gun in a bag in the trash just before the meeting. Gov. David A. Paterson said in a statement that he was ordering a review of “security measures” at all parole offices. Darcy Wells, a spokeswoman for the union that represents 900 parole officers in New York, the Public Employees Federation of the AFL-CIO, said that the lack of such devices had been a sore point “since the 1990s.”
She said she hoped that the shooting of Officer Salters would reignite the union’s quest, particularly in offices in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens, “where they have had violence.” Marc Violette, a spokesman for the State Division of Parole, said the parole reporting stations across the state, which serve 40,000 parolees, had always been considered “public spaces,” with no metal detectors present. As the shooting inquiry continues, Mr. Violette said, the policy will be reviewed.
Meanwhile, as those familiar with Mr. Morales and Officer Salters absorbed what had occurred, differing portraits of their relationship emerged. Mr. Morales’s friends cringed in explaining how a man they considered sensitive and hard-working had suffered in the criminal justice system. He spent years claiming he had been wrongly convicted of murder in 1977. And after serving 25 years in prison and becoming a model parolee, he was stuck in a situation he considered untenable when he felt he should be released from the authority’s grip, those who knew him said.
He told a childhood friend, David Ford, that Officer Salters, “was undermining all his efforts.” He expressed frustration to a friend nicknamed Ponce, whom he visited daily at a children’s clothing store where Ponce works. And he told Chuck De Jesus, with whom he had shared a bathroom and a kitchen since moving into a row house in Bushwick, about an argument with Officer Salters a few years ago at the parole office. Mr. Violette, the state spokesman, said he had no record of that argument.
On Thursday, Mr. De Jesus came home to find a note from Mr. Morales stuck to the bathroom window. “Yo Chuck,” it began, “I’m truly sorry I couldn’t do this another way. But it is what it is. Done deal.” Officer Salters, who became a parole officer in 1992, was described as straightforward and businesslike by one parole officer at the Brooklyn office, who requested anonymity because he had been instructed not to speak to reporters. “He’s a professional,” the officer said. “He does his job; he’s dedicated.”
A parolee, who declined to give his name, agreed. He said though Officer Salters was not his assigned guardian, he recently came to see him for a house visit because he was in the area. “I know he does his job,” the man said. Mr. Morales’s reported comments to investigators differed sharply from the tone he set at his parole hearing in 2002, when he expressed remorse and spoke of his hopes. “Happiness is coming home and having a wife waiting for you or coming home with you,” he said then. “Opening up the refrigerator. Little things I don’t have today that I haven’t had.”