Murdered NYPD cops added to grim roster at doomed precinct

It’s the NYPD’s most tragic station building.

Officers Jason Rivera and Wilbert Mora join a long list of fallen officers from Harlem’s 32nd Precinct — which likely claimed more casualties than any other in the department, a historian told The Post.

The two young officers were ambushed by insane ex-con Lashawn McNeil while answering a call for a domestic dispute at a Harlem apartment on January 21, killing Rivera instantly and Mora succumbing to his injuries days later.

Floral tribute to the officers sits in front of a wall of heroes from the past — 26 who perished, starting with patrol Robert Holmes in 1917. He was one of only four black police officers on the NYPD when he was shot dead while chasing a burglar, according to the non-profit Officer Down Memorial page.

“From all I know, the 32nd Precinct has the most murders of police officers killed on the job,” said Mike Bosak, a retired NYPD sergeant and unofficial historian.

The most recent deaths are eerily reminiscent of the 1971 murders of officers Waverly Jones, 33, and Joseph Piagentini, 28, who were ambushed by members of the anti-cop Black Liberation Army after answering a domestic dispute call in the Colonial Park residential complex.

Officers Waverly Jones and Joseph Piagentini were killed in an ambush in 1971.
Matthew McDermott

“I never thought this would happen again, and it did. In the same district,’ said Diane, Piagentini’s widow.

Occupying downtown Harlem, the 32nd Precinct includes six public housing complexes and 11 private developments, including Lenox Terrace, home of former Congressman Charles Rangel and former Governor David Paterson. It is also home to Harlem Hospital, where many of the wounded officers, including Rivera and Mora, were taken.

Serious crime is a fraction of what it was three decades ago. In 1990 there were 66 homicides compared to 16 last year and two this year.

Before Rivera and Mora were killed, Det. Cedric Dixon in March 2020. He was the first NYPD officer to die of COVID-19.

The 32nd Precinct pictured in 1991.
New York Post

The Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression proved particularly deadly to the district’s police officers, with 12 dead in the 1920s and 1930s. One was stabbed, another was intentionally mowed down by a speeding car, and several were killed in gun battles.

The era was marked by prohibition and widespread mafia-controlled smuggling, Bosak said.

A century ago this month, Detectives William Miller and Francis Buckley were shot dead as they attempted to bring a suspect to the station of shooting another officer. The detectives picked up the man, unaware that he had shot and killed someone in a robbery an hour earlier, and he opened fire as he tried to flee, according to Officer Down Memorial Page.

Angelo Sollecito, now 89, during his time with the Violent District.
Angelo Sollecito, now 89, during his time with the Violent District.

Retired NYPD Detective Angelo Sollecito, whose first NYPD stint as an officer in the 32nd district was in 1957, said the heroin addicts who committed crimes to feed their habit made their jobs a nightmare.

“There was violence against police officers all the time,” said Sollecito, 89, who lives on Long Island.

Agent Francis Walsh, a friend from Sollecito’s time at the police academy, was shot in September 1961 just before the end of his shift when he entered a supermarket and interrupted an ongoing robbery, he said.

A few years later, Mike Sapik was stabbed on West 135th Street, the same street where Rivera and Mora were murdered.

“He Just Walked Down” [to Harlem Hospital] without any help,” said Sollecito. “Walked into the emergency room with the knife in his back.”

Piagentini said her husband was working during a time of anti-police sentiment when officers had to dodge rocks and bottles thrown at them. But, she said, he expressed no fear for the job.

“They were two great agents, both committed to their jobs,” she said of her husband and Jones.

The partners were two of 12 NYPD members who died that year in what was the deadliest year for police killings nationwide, said Greg Umbach, an associate professor of history at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Detective William Buckley was murdered a century ago this month.
Detective William Buckley was murdered a century ago this month.

Police fatalities began to decline after a policy change in 1972 that limited how often NYPD officers could fire their weapons, which reduced the number of gunfights, Umbach said.

It may be that the current left-wing political climate and defamation of the police are to blame for the recent rise in violence against law enforcement officers, Bosack said. The shooting of Rivera and Mora marked the fourth and fifth times NYPD officers were shot in the first three weeks of 2022.

“It is also the climate of indulgence that favors crime and theft of property,” he said. “Increase that reasoning with the policy of prosecutors or (the) prosecutor making it clear to criminals that it is okay to resist arrest. So now the criminal is convinced that if he uses violent physical force to resist, there will be no consequences.”

Even as flowers and tribute poured into the 32nd district this week, there was a blatant sign of disrespect: Someone cut the tires of marked police cars parked outside.

Piagentini’s widow called on Mayor Eric Adams to end the violence before adding more names to the memorial wall.

“It’s not going away for the survivors of a police officer’s murder,” she said. “It stays with you. It stays with your family. It stays with your children for the rest of your life. I can’t say that enough.”

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