It was a warm mid-July night in the South Bronx when Police Officer Michael Phipps received an all too common call of “shots fired.”
The first cop on the scene, Phipps came upon a car riddled with bullet holes and saw someone slumped over in the back seat. He grabbed the medical kit he carries with him and rushed over.
“When we open up the door, it’s kind of clear at that point that he’s no longer with us,” the Navy veteran told The Post during a recent ride along in the NYPD’s 46th Precinct. “There’s a lot of blood and there’s a gunshot wound to the head, a gunshot wound to his chest.”
The victim would later be identified as Ramon Gil-Medrano, a 16-year-old boy who was inside a livery cab in Mount Hope on July 12 when two young men on mopeds opened fire, killing him.
Police believe the teen was affiliated with the gang 800 YGZs, a subset of the Bloods, and likely targeted by rivals in retaliation for the fatal shooting of 13-year-old Jaryan Elliot earlier in the day.
It’s a tragic scene of gun violence involving young kids that cops in the Bronx precinct know far too well — and one they blame on the COVID-19 pandemic, hot summer months and lax criminal penalties for juveniles.
“Youth violence is an extreme concern,” said Joseph Seminara, the commanding officer of the 46th Precinct.
Inspector Joseph Seminara, Commanding Officer of the 46th precinct said that youth violence has been on the rise since 2018.Stephen Yang
The issue has gotten “exponentially greater” since 2018, Seminara noted, with underage suspects ending up back on the streets because they’re sent to family court instead of being prosecuted as adults.
“There’s no telling how large this problem has gotten based on the fact that that initial offense is not being met with the commensurate consequences,” he said.
For instance, Seminara said, Gil-Medrano had twice been caught with a firearm, once in a neighborhood bodega and the other at the River Park Towers in Morris Heights.
“Two guns, and both times he’s home very shortly thereafter,” he said. “So what message are we sending?”
Police officers hold a post near the River Park Towers in the Bronx.Stephen Yang
“Did we have his best interest in mind sending him home?” Seminara wondered, “Because look what happened in the back of a cab … we have a 16-year-old, whose life was ended in an extremely violent way.”
“I don’t care that he was caught with a couple of guns,” the officer added.
“At the end of the day, he’s a 16-year-old kid. He basically saw the end of his life coming.”
For Bronx Homicide Detective Brianna Constantino, the ongoing teen-on-teen violence is “almost an epidemic within a pandemic.”
Not only are youngsters out of school with nothing to do, but “there’s no consequences for any of their actions,” she told The Post.
“The rise in juvenile killings is terrible, and unfortunately it’s something we’ve been dealing with this summer,” Constantino sighed.
“Right now,” she added, “the worst thing on this job is to have to call a mother and tell her her 16-year-old son is killed.”
Homicide Detective Brianna Constantino called teen violence an “epidemic” in the Bronx.Stephen Yang
Sources have said that a gang war between two ruthless Bronx crews is to blame for the recent deaths of several teens, including Gil-Medrano and Elliot, a suspected member of the Crips.
Sources have said Elliot was gunned down in retaliation for the shooting death of another gangbanger, Tyquill Daugherty, 19, on July 7 in Crotona, part of the 48nd Precinct.
“There’s crews, there’s sets, there’s gangs. It all kind of depends on where you grew up or who you hang out with or where you go to school,” Constantino explained.
“Now again, these kids are not in school. So they have all day to hang out on the streets, and see that their neighbor came home [after they] got caught with a gun and that’s OK … you know, that’s frustrating.”
At the time of his death, Gil-Medrano was wanted for an armed carjacking — one of three open gun cases against him in family court. He was out on the streets, though, thanks to the state’s Raise the Age law, which shields 16- and 17-year-olds from being prosecuted as adults and sparing many from Rikers Island.
Two other youths with alleged gang ties, Alec McFarlane, 15, and Mehki Williams, 19, were busted in Gil-Medrano’s slaying. Both are being held without bail, according to online records.
“In this case, there’s effectively two children who lost their lives. Because one is dead, and one is arrested for murder,” Constantino said, her eyes misty.
“So you have to tell two families at this point that neither one of their sons are coming home.”
Cops are still looking for two other teens, ages 16 and 19, who were on a second scooter and allegedly also opened fire on Gil-Medrano, according to sources.
Police say the River Park Towers are a hotbed of gang activity, with many Bloods affiliates, including Gil-Medrano, hanging out at the massive development.
In an effort to dissuade violence, a lit-up patrol car is now stationed 24/7 outside the entrance of the complex, located along the Harlem River within the confines of the precinct, which covers Fordham, University Heights, Morris Heights and Mount Hope.
“This is a one way in, one way out,” Seminara said, as he and another officer in an unmarked SUV pulled into the complex on a recent Wednesday night.
“Anyone with ill intentions might still go in, but they have to know we’re looking right at them.”
Officer Adam Einhorn holding a BB gun that was recovered from a 16-year-old in Washington Park.Stephen Yang
Several people milled about outside the two 38-story and two 44-story high-rises, as kids on bikes rode by. Blaring rap music from open windows, a car drove out of the complex, passing the cop cruiser.
Later, the officers took a Post reporter to Fort Washington Park in the nearby 48th Precinct, where an off-duty cop had spotted a 16-year-old on a moped pull out what looked like a firearm — but was actually a BB gun.
“He reaches inside of his waistband, takes it out, lifts it up, puts his other hand up and says, ‘It’s fake! It’s fake!’ and drops it and then gets on his knees,” Officer Adam Einhorn recalled.
“You know, my cops are faced with dangerous situations every single day and the restraint that they show is amazing,” Seminara said.
“A young kid pulled out a very realistic looking firearm and you can’t distinguish between that and a Glock,” he continued. “They used incredible restraint giving him time to drop it, as it turns out it was an air pistol.”
Responding to bloody shooting scenes involving young victims has become something Bronx cops have had to learn to process.
Driving in a cruiser, a Post reporter asked Phipps and Sergeant Brendan Reilly — both of whom responded to the Gil-Medrano slaying — about how the youth violence had affected them.
“After you deal with a few of them it kind of gets compartmentalized,” said Phipps, who has been on the force for nearly four years and lives upstate.
Sergeant Brendan Reilly, left, and police officer Mike Phipps, who both responded to the Ramon Gil-Medrano homicide.Stephen Yang
“You just kind of take all of those incidents and you kind of put them in a box and you put them on a shelf in your brain and you just kind of move on.”
Phipps noted that while the bloodshed takes a toll on cops and EMS, “really, the people paying the price is the community.”
“They’re the ones who have to sit out here and be worried about, are they going to get shot just because they’re hanging outside their building? Or is it safe for their kid to really go down to the bodega because there might be a shooting and they might be an innocent bystander?” he said. “That’s not right. Nobody should have to live like that.”
Reilly, a Bronx resident who’s been an officer for a decade, also remained stoic.
“It’s never nice to see a kid dead in the street,” he said.
“It becomes more common. That’s something we gotta deal with as you get on,” he added, “I think it’s hard for these young cops.”
“Now, I have kids, in the Bronx, and it is like, how do you avoid this?”
The officers aren’t just dealing with the emotional toll of calls but facing animosity from the very people they’re trying to protect, too.
Officer Mike Phipps said that he has to compartmentalize all of the youth violence he sees in order to do his job.Stephen Yang
“We could just be standing there and people are already like, ‘Who called you guys here?’” said Officer Katherine Torres. “They say all types of profanity, like you know, it’s just very hard because we are there to help people.”
Torres, who patrols an area including Webster Avenue, Grand Concourse and Fordham Road, almost to the Cross Bronx Expressway, has responded to several shootings in her sector, as well as domestic and mental health calls.
The gun violence continues “because people are not afraid of the police,” she said.
Reilly and Phipps in their police car while out in the Bronx.Stephen Yang
“We may think that they have [a gun] but there’s nothing we can do until they actually take it out and start shooting,” Torres explained. “And I think that’s a problem. Once the shooting happens already what can we do at that point?”
She described the job as being “in a fight for my life.”
“We have to make decisions in split seconds and it’s just very hard,” she said. “Sometimes it is scary, not even because I’m scared for myself, but it’s like I make a mistake and the person next to me has to pay for it … There’s a lot of stress on a lot of cops.”
Phipps said the “disrespect” aimed at cops is “part of the job.”
“The more you’re exposed to it, the less it bothers you,” he said. “The police department as a whole tries to give a lot of respect. So when they double down on the disrespect you realize, ‘It’s not me. You’re not mad at me. You’re mad at my uniform.’”