The NYPD fumbled promises to provide protection at a Bronx wake for a victim of a gang-related murder, leading to a drive-by shooting that killed a dad of two and wounded a second man, a new lawsuit alleges.
Responding to the fears of murder victim Demetry Aristud's family, a 40th Precinct detective pledged cops would staff his two-day wake at the Parkchester Funeral Home on Unionport Road in Parkchester on Sept. 2 and Sept. 3, 2021, says the suit filed by the family of LaShaun Whitfield.
No cops showed the second day - when a shooter or shooters in an SUV carrying four men opened fire on the mourners, mortally wounding 37-year-old LaShaun Whitfield, whose wife Grecia Whitfield is Aristud's cousin.
"I don't understand who goes to a funeral to kill someone," said Grecia Whitfield, 37.
The NYPD declined comment on pending litigation. The lawsuit does not seek a specific dollar amount.
The story begins with 29-year-old Demetry Aristud, who was shot in the chest on Aug. 27, 2021 near E. 137th St. and St. Ann's Ave. in Mott Haven. Aristud died later that day at Lincoln Hospital.
At Lincoln Hospital, Detective Javish Ortiz, a 19-year NYPD veteran assigned to the 40th Precinct, promised Aristud's family he would find the killer. He also asked for the wake and funeral information so he could arrange for protection, the lawsuit alleges.
Ortiz repeated the protection pledge to Aristud's mother, Betty, the next day, the suit says. Ortiz made similar promises on Aug. 31 and on Sept. 1, legal papers allege.
On Sept. 2, the first day of the wake, it appeared to members of Aristud's family that an unmarked police car was stationed across from the funeral home.
The next morning, Ortiz texted Grecia Whitfield's sister, Patricia Carillo, "I will see you at the funeral at 4 p.m.," the lawsuit alleges.
But no cops came, and Ortiz texted Carillo just before the wake ended at 7 p.m. to say something else had come up, the lawsuit claims.
"I'm on the phone with him, and I start hearing gunshots," Carillo said.
Mourners were leaving the funeral home when bullets flew from the SUV. Whitfield was struck in the chest.
Grecia Whitfield and their children, Lakai, 16, and Shamya, 19, dove to safety. The crowd scattered.
Another member of Aristud's family, Tariq Rosario, 28, was standing near Whitfield when the gunfire erupted. A bullet sliced through both of his legs.
"I heard it and felt it simultaneously," Rosario said. "I fell. People yelling. I saw a car. I crawled behind a van and then ran into the funeral home. It seemed like more than 15 shots. I saw LaShaun on the ground."
A mourner at the wake, Juan Nunez, 25, had a gun and returned fire at the men in the SUV, authorities say. Whitfield's relatives say Nunez was trying to protect them from the SUV shooters.
Carillo said she soon heard from the Whitfields' son. "Lakai comes and yells, 'I need your help! My dad got shot!'" she recounted.
In the desperate half-hour that followed the shooting, Whitfield was loaded into a car and driven toward Jacobi Medical Center, as he struggled for breath in the white suit he'd worn in tribute to Aristud.
Grecia Whitfield held her husband on her lap and tried to give him CPR. They hit traffic and flagged down an ambulance. Medics tried to revive Whitfield on a park bench before getting him to Jacobi, where he died.
"He couldn't talk. I can still feel the blood gargling," said Grecia Whitfield. "I had blood all over me."
As Whitfield was dying and his wife Grecia was trying to get him to the hospital, Carillo texted Detective Ortiz: "You promised me. You lied to me."
Whitfield died at 7:43 p.m. About a half hour later, Carillo texted the detective, "It's your fault."
Later at the hospital, Ortiz told the family that officers from the 43rd Precinct were supposed to staff the wake. But a 43rd Precinct officer insisted she was unaware of that, the lawsuit alleges.
"It's just common sense to have a post at a wake if there's been a shooting," a police source said. "If they were there for the first day and not the second, that's bad."
A year later, the NYPD has yet to catch any of the men in the SUV. Nunez, the mourner who fired back at the SUV, was arrested and is currently serving a maximum four-year state prison sentence for weapons possession in the incident.
Grecia Whitfield and the couple's children, along with Aristud's mom Betty and Rosario, say in their Bronx Supreme Court lawsuit that the NYPD breached its duty to assign officers to the wake.
The family's lawyer, Mark Shirian, argues the NYPD was well aware the mourners needed protection because of the potential of gang violence, and promised that protection. Aristud's relatives relied on that promise to decide to attend the wake, thinking they would be safe, the lawsuit says.
"The broken promises of the NYPD allowed this tragedy to occur and we intend on holding the NYPD fully accountable," said Shirian, who is handling the case with lawyer Sanford Rubenstein.
Detective Ortiz has been involved in 755 arrests and received 10 department commendations in his career, NYPD records show. He made $141,654 in 2021. He is "a highly decorated and dedicated investigator," said Paul DiGiacomo, president of the Detectives Endowment Association.
Ortiz has been sued several times with the city paying out $109,500 total in those cases, court records show.
Fourteen years before Whitfield died, he and his wife moved their kids to Pennsylvania for a safer life. He worked for an art storage company. She was a packer in a coffee factory.
"He was a jack-of-all-trades," Grecia said. "He was our best friend. I lost that when he died."
For Rosario, who lives near Binghamton, the trauma and pain of his leg wounds linger a year later. "Even now I don't walk the same. I don't play sports because I can't run and I can't jump off one leg," he said. "I don't leave the house.... We thought we would be safe. My cousin died and I easily could have died there too."
Carillo remains terrified of gang retaliation. She still lives in the Bronx and drives an Uber to support her two kids.
"If a cop was killed that way, there would have been a million cops at the (wake)," she said. "But LaShaun was just a regular man. He was no one to the city, but my sister lost her world. It makes you feel different about New York City."