The two men arrested in Saturday's fatal shooting of a police officer in the Bronx were charged with murder yesterday, as new details emerged that led investigators to believe the men had been trying to steal Valium from a dead man's apartment when the officer confronted them.
The suspects, Steven Armento, 48, a convicted burglar, and Lillo Brancato Jr., 29, an actor who appeared in episodes of "The Sopranos" and in films including "A Bronx Tale," were shot by the officer and were in stable condition yesterday in the critical care unit of Jacobi Medical Center, the police said.
The police said the officer, Daniel Enchautegui, 28, had been awakened by the sound of glass breaking next door to his home on Arnow Place in Pelham Bay and later discovered the men in an alley between the houses. He was shot by Mr. Armento but managed to shoot both him and Mr. Brancato, the authorities said. The bleeding suspects were arrested nearby, by officers responding to a 911 call from Officer Enchautegui.
Mr. Armento was charged with first-degree murder, indicating that prosecutors believe the evidence will show that he knowingly fired on a police officer, said Steven Reed, a spokesman for the Bronx district attorney's office. Both suspects were charged with second-degree murder, criminal possession of a weapon and second-degree burglary, Mr. Reed said, and will be arraigned after they have recovered sufficiently.
Both men have made statements to the police implicating themselves, the police said. Mr. Armento admitted firing the gun, which he was still carrying when he was arrested, according to the police.
Last night, Mr. Brancato's parents appeared outside their Yonkers home with the family's lawyer and contended that they had been denied access to their son and had been unable to find out anything about him.
The lawyer, Harvey Kaminsky, said that if a statement was taken from his client, "I assure everyone that it was a coerced illegal confession taken by overzealous policemen who suspended all of this man's rights because of the severity of the crime."
Standing beside the lawyer and weeping, the actor's mother, Domenica Brancato, acknowledged the severity of the case and said that she felt sorry for the mother of the dead officer, but added that she feared her son was being denied his rights. "All I want is some answers on my son's condition," she said.
A spokesman for the Police Department responded that proper procedures are being followed in the case, which has been referred to the Bronx district attorney.
Earlier yesterday, in displays of respect and grief that have become sadly repetitive to the Police Department in the past fortnight, officers in uniform and plainclothes stopped at Officer Enchautegui's home and that of his parents to offer condolences.
About 2:30 on Saturday morning, Mr. Brancato and Mr. Armento went to a strip club on Boston Post Road in the Bronx called Crazy Horse and did not attract attention, said a man who identified himself as Peter Perri, 28, an owner of the club.
"They had a couple of drinks at the bar, and that was it," he said in a telephone interview. He said Mr. Brancato, the actor, had made regular visits to the club. "I tried to buy him a drink on the way out. He said, 'No, I've got an appointment.' "
Mr. Perri said Mr. Brancato's struggle with drug addiction had been well known among friends. "He seemed normal. When he's on drugs, you can tell. He acts incoherent," Mr. Perri said, adding he was surprised to learn of the shooting. "Lillo's not violent like that. He's not going to carry a gun and shoot cops or shoot anybody. I'd never expect it."
Mr. Perri said, "Besides the drugs, he's a good kid."
The police, who have reviewed videotape from the club, said the two men left after 4 a.m., when they decided to go to an apartment at 1339 Arnow Place to look for Valium. The previous tenant of a basement apartment there died several months ago, the police and neighbors said, although his identity could not be confirmed yesterday. Mr. Armento is believed to have been to the apartment at least once since the tenant's death.
A prescription bottle belonging to the tenant was found yesterday at Mr. Armento's home, at 6 Smart Avenue in Yonkers. The police did not say how Mr. Armento had obtained the bottle.
After the shooting, the police first speculated that the men had intended to break into a drug dealer's home and had gone to the wrong address.
Mr. Brancato was driving and dropped Mr. Armento at the Arnow Place address before parking his car around the corner on Westchester Avenue. But Mr. Armento found he was too large to fit through the window of the basement apartment, the police said. He is believed to have broken the glass, waking Officer Enchautegui about 5:20 a.m., the police said. The officer, who had finished a tour at the 40th Precinct about five hours before, called his landlord to ask if he, too, had heard broken glass, then called 911 to report a possible burglary in progress.
Officer Enchautegui told the dispatcher he would meet the responding officers in front of the address, and he placed his police badge over his clothing on a chain around his neck.
By the time Officer Enchautegui stepped outside, Mr. Brancato had squeezed through the window, only to find the apartment cleaned out, the police said. A neighbor said yesterday that movers had loaded a truck with items from the apartment on Thursday.
Mr. Brancato climbed back out through the window and the two men were walking down the narrow alley between the two buildings when Officer Enchautegui confronted them.
His landlord told the police he heard Officer Enchautegui twice shout, "Police! Don't move!" before the gunfire began, the police said. Mr. Armento fired two shots from a revolver, striking Officer Enchautegui once in the spleen, the police said.
Officer Enchautegui fired eight rounds from his semiautomatic pistol, striking Mr. Armento six times - three times in the right leg, once in the groin, once in the stomach and once in the left arm - and Mr. Brancato twice. The police originally said that Officer Enchautegui had fired six shots, but they revised the number yesterday.
His accuracy was stunning, his fellow officers said. One police official, who requested anonymity because the investigation is continuing, said: "Considering he's being fired on, it's remarkable, the presence of mind and accuracy he showed. Many officers who experience this talk about time slowing down and their own movements, including reaching for their gun, feel as though they're occurring in an agonizingly slow way."
Yesterday, police officers, alone and in quiet groups, visited their fallen comrade's apartment, as well as his parents' home. Officer Enchautegui was said to be very close to his father, Pedro Enchautegui, and when Mr. Enchautegui returned home in a police van yesterday, uniformed officers helped him climb the stairs, and plainclothes officers embraced him.
Officer Enchautegui was single and lived alone. Yolanda Nazario, 41, his sister, said their mother, Maria Rosa, always feared for his safety, ever since he had said he wanted to be a police officer. "This is her worst nightmare. I'm the only one left," Mrs. Nazario said. "I had a sister who died of cancer. Now he's gone."
Grieving friends had set up a memorial with candles and notes outside the officer's apartment. One officer, Ernie Toro, said: "He was a great guy. I worked with him at the 52nd Precinct." Officer Enchautegui had previously been assigned there.
Another officer, who gave his name only as K. Torres, 27, from the 43rd Precinct, said that, after a year without police deaths in the line of duty, officers were shaken and angered at the second killing of an officer in two weeks. On Nov. 28, Officer Dillon Stewart, 35, was fatally shot during a pursuit of a suspect who had run a red light in Brooklyn.
While Officer Enchautegui was off duty when he was killed, he was acting in the line of duty, the police said.
"It's another fellow cop," Officer Torres said. "Two in two weeks. Something's got to be done."
A wake for Officer Enchautegui will be held today from 7 to 9 p.m. at Schuyler-Hill Funeral Home, 3535 Tremont Avenue, and tomorrow from 2 to 5 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Funeral services will be held on Wednesday at St. John's Chrysostom Church in the Bronx, with burial to follow at St. Raymond's Cemetery.
Reporting for this article was contributed by Janon Fisher, George M. Gutierrez, Colin Moynihan and Matthew Sweeney.