Updated 2:05 p.m. | A New York City police officer was killed early Sunday morning on a quiet street in Brooklyn when he tried to arrest a man reported to have threatened his former girlfriend and was pushed over the front steps of a brownstone, breaking his neck in the fall.
Police officials said the officer, Alain Schaberger, 42, a 10-year veteran of the force, tumbled 9 feet to the basement well of the brownstone, landing on his head, and died shortly afterward at Lutheran Medical Center. Police officials identified the suspect as George Villanueva, 42, and said he had been the subject of about a dozen reports of domestic violence by the former girlfriend, who is 48 years old but was not further identified. Mr. Villanueva was last arrested Feb. 4 for violating an order of protection obtained by the woman.
Officer Schaberger, of the 84th precinct, was the first city police officer to die in the line of duty in almost two years. The last was Omar Edwards, who was mistakenly shot by another police officer on May 28, 2009, while trying to apprehend a suspect who had broken into his car.
Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, at a press conference at the hospital, said police received a 911 call at 4:22 AM from the woman at her home at 334 Bergen Street in Boerum Hill.
“He’s across the street and he’s going to kill me,” the woman told police.
Officer Schaberger and a second officer responded to the call and then brought the woman to a nearby brownstone at 45 St. Marks Place, where Mr. Villaneuva and his father live. The officers found Mr. Villanueva in his apartment and escorted him down the stairs. As they emerged from the front door, the woman got out of the police car and shouted, “That’s him!”
A struggle ensued and as the officers were trying to either handcuff him or subdue him with a Taser jolt — there were different reports — Mr. Villanueva shoved Officer Schaberger over the railing of the brownstone steps, according to the police. The brownstone has a stoop of four steps but there is another set stairs leading to a basement entrance.
“We have witnesses that say he was pushed with two hands from the steps over the railing,” Mr. Kelly said. “He falls and gashes the left side of his head and breaks his neck.”
The other officer, who was not identified, subdued Mr. Villanueva with a jolt of a Taser, police said. Officer Schaberger, his heart still pulsing, was taken by ambulance to the hospital but was pronounced dead there.
“What appears to be a routine assignment can become deadly very quickly,” Mr. Kelly said. “You don’t know what kind of physical situation you’re going to encounter.”
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who was at the press conference, said: “We had a police officer answering a domestic violence complaint, was pushed off a step, fell nine feet, hit his head and unfortunately died. It’s a dangerous job, our first responders.”
He pointed out that domestic violence complaints had declined in recent years. Police officials said the decline was 25 percent since 2002 and credited a program that requires officers to make follow-up visits to victims. The woman in the Sunday incident had received a follow-up visit Feb. 9, police officials said.
Officer Schaberger had graduated from the Police Academy July 2001. He had served in the Navy from 1991 to 1995. He was single and lived in Westchester.
One neighbor, Sabine Aronowsky, a 40-year-old student at Baruch College, said she was awoken by the commotion around 5 A.M., looked out her window and saw several police officers still trying to push Mr. Villanueva into the police car.
“They handled themselves very professionally,” she said.
Mr. Villanueva’s uncle, Ely Figueroa, 62, said he, Mr. Villaneuva’s father, Luis, and Mr. Villanueva had spent Saturday night watching boxing matches and sharing three cases of beer. He estimated that Mr. Villanueva had downed either six or nine beers, but said he did not appear drunk.
“He never said anything about being mad or wanting to hurt anybody,” Mr. Figueroa said. “He’s not a violent man.”
Mr. Figueroa said his nephew had not worked in recent months and “stayed around the house.” After several arrests, the uncle said, “he wanted to get straightened up.”
In the last six months alone, according to a law enforcement official, Mr,. Villanueva has been arrested at least three times on charges of domestic violence. On Nov. 3, he was arrested on a charge of punching his girlfriend in the face and head. On Dec. 7, he was accused of punching her so severely in that she required 10 stitches. On Feb. 4, he was arrested for a Jan. 18 incident in which he had been accused of punching her at a party. The girlfirend, whose name is being withheld, has two orders of protection, one valid through May 27, and the other through June 24, the official said.
Mr. Villanueva’s criminal record also includes robberies and burglaries, and was released from prison in 2005, the police said.
Jose Feliciano, 49, who lives at the Bergen Street building where the fight began, said that a woman who matched the description of Mr. Villanueva’s girlfriend had said that her boyfriend had hit her and that she recently had a lip stitched up.
“He’s a tough guy,” Mr. Feliciano said. His picture had been posted near the entrance of the building, he said. But she continued to date him.
“She tells me he beats on her,” and that she had him arrested before. But “she is in love with him.”
Al Baker, Joe Goldstein, Tim Stelloh and Karen Zraick contributed reporting.