2 police detectives shot, wounded in Trenton, New Jersey; suspect dead

TRENTON, N.J. - August 15, 2013

Authorities say 53-year-old Detective Edgar Rios, a 30-year veteran, took several bullets to the torso, injuring vital organs.

Rios underwent surgery Thursday, but sources tell us he has serious damage to his liver and spleen and will require further surgery Friday. He remains in critical but stable condition.

The other detective, 46-year-old Jim Letts, a 15-year veteran, suffered a shoulder injury.

Officials say he was out of surgery by 10:30 Thursday morning. He was recovering in a private room, and expected to be able to go home in a day or two.

The suspect, identified as 23-year-old Eric McNeil, was shot and killed.


Police say the incident began at approximately 2:30 a.m., when police received a report that a man, identified as McNeil, had punched and kicked his ex-girlfriend, and stabbed and killed her dog,

New Jersey's Acting Attorney General John Hoffman said the victim was taken to the police station to be checked on and for questioning.

Around 8:30 a.m. Detectives Rios and Letts brought the woman back home and parked in front of her house on 59 Hobart Avenue.

According to investigators, from inside the car, the woman said, "that's him."

Hoffman said the detectives were "ambushed by Mr. McNeil who came out of the house and began shooting."

"I don't know how many shots, but I heard it, and it was like a gun battle," said neighborhood resident Jim Rooney.

"Me and my brother were sitting having coffee," said another resident. "And all of the sudden, 'Bam! Bam! Bam!'"

Both detectives were hit.

The detectives returned fire and the suspect was killed.

Mercer County Prosecutor Joseph Bocchini says more than a half dozen bullets were fired.

"When you walk into a domestic violence situation, you never know what's going to happen," Bocchini said. "It can just become crazy and out-of-control."

"Pray for our officers. They do a thankless job, out here every day," Trenton Police Director Ralph Rivera said. "These two officers were excellent officers and they are in our prayers."

Among those at the scene immediately following the shooting were friends of Detective Rios.

"He's been incredible," said Alex Rivera of Trenton. "He's a nice officer, and I was very sad to see what happened to him."

Investigators found the gun used to shoot the detectives next to McNeil's body. The body was removed from the scene by the medical examiner.

McNeil recently got out of prison, and neighbors said his brother died while he was incarcerated. Authorities say McNeil viciously beat his girlfriend and stabbed to death her puppy.

"My son said he thinks he wanted to do a suicide by police," said Janie Barnes of Trenton, "because he felt alone and he lost his brother."


It was a frantic scene at the hospital shortly after the shooting. Friends, family and colleagues of the fallen officers came running to offer their support.

Among them, the mayor and city council members.

Council President George Muschal is a retired police officer and worked with both Detective Letts and Detective Sergeant Rios.

Muschal says ordinarily the two detectives would not have been involved in the domestic violence call Thursday morning that led to the shooting.

But budget cuts have forced the city to lay off 109 officers in recent years. Council members say the city needs help, and that the two officers are just the latest casualties in what has become a war zone.

"Anyone who is not thinking and praying for Detective Rios and Letts, [their] priorities, I would say, are a little bit misplaced," said Acting Attorney General John Hoffman.

Hoffman made the statement as officials were announcing major new law enforcement and prosecutorial initiatives to address the gun violence in Trenton.

As of August 5th, there had been 27 homicides in Trenton. There were 24 homicides in Trenton in all of 2012.

The record of 31 homicides was set in 2005.

This shooting comes just two days after Philadelphia Police Officer Edward Davies was shot and wounded. He is still recovering in the hospital while the suspect, Eric Torres, is in police custody.

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