A man who shot and injured two police officers in February 2020 during separate incidents within a 12-hour span in the Bronx pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree attempted murder in court Thursday.
Robert Williams, 49, waived his right to a trial on the condition that most of the dozens of counts against him would be dropped. The court also deemed him a “persistent violent felony offender,” citing past convictions for attempted murder and robbery.
Justice Ralph Fabrizio tentatively agreed to a prison sentence of 23 years to life, but Williams will be formally sentenced at a separate hearing in September.
Williams walked into the courtroom around 3:40 p.m., dressed in a khaki jail uniform and black beanie, his cuffed hands wrapped in orange mitts. As he looked out at the pews, he frowned and let out an audible sigh.
Fabrizio asked him a series of questions ensuring that Williams understood what was happening and agreed to the terms of his plea deal, to which Williams replied with a series of strained responses. At times, Williams’ attorney, Damien Brown, patted him on the back and whispered in his ear. A single friend of the defendant sat in the back of the mostly empty courtroom, quietly watching.
Williams, who cycled in and out of jail and prison for two decades before his release in 2017, said in a statement after the back-to-back shootings that he had been “having problems with police” and had been tased in the past.
“I am tired of the way I was being treated,” he said in a video statement.
According to court papers, Williams first approached officers who were sitting in a van on Simpson Street at about 9 p.m. on Feb. 8, 2020. After a brief conversation with the officers, the records state, he fired multiple shots, hitting Officer Paul Stroffolino in the chin and neck.
Williams left the scene and got Chinese food, he said in his recorded statement. He then went to his mom’s house to lie down.
The next morning, he said, he had breakfast with his girlfriend and met up with his sister, who gave him a ride. When her car approached the 41st Precinct at about 7:45 a.m., Williams told her to stop driving, and he went inside.
“When I came in, I was thinking: ‘Just kill me. Just kill me,’” Williams said in his taped statement.
He fired into the station, hitting Lt. Jose Gautreaux in the arm. Then, he went into a side room and fired more shots, according to court documents.
Both Stroffolino and Gautreaux survived their injuries.
Williams told investigators he had bought the gun two years earlier because of past incidents with police. He also said he had been inside that precinct before when he was 16 years old.
Had the case gone to trial, court records show, Williams’ attorney planned to argue that his client was not criminally responsible for the shooting because of mental illness. The New York Times has reported that Williams was in a “downward spiral” after his 18-year-old son accidentally shot and killed himself. Williams waived that defense by accepting the plea deal.
The 2020 shootings sparked outrage among police, who blamed protests against police brutality for provoking violence against officers. The Sergeants Benevolent Association posted on social media that the members of the NYPD were “declaring war” on then-Mayor Bill de Blasio, who advocated for police reform.
“This hate-filled individual was on a mission to kill cops," said Patrick Hendry, president of the Police Benevolent Association. "It’s only through the grace of God and the skill of our police officers that he did not succeed. He must never set foot outside of prison walls again.”
The NYPD did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Williams’ plea deal. Williams’ attorney also could not immediately be reached.