Brooklyn, NY – A veteran New York police officer who was beaten in the face with a chair on Friday night emerged from his medically-induced coma on Sunday.
New York Police Officer Lesly Lafontant, a well-respected, 21-year veteran-of-the-force, was able to recognize people, could sit up in his bed, and has begun speaking again, the New York Post reported.
The 53-year-old officer remains in the intensive care unit at Brookdale University Hospital Medical Center.
He suffered multiple orbital fractures, as well as an eye injury and a broken cheekbone during the violent assault.
“He has some very serious injuries, but it’s a good sign that he’s sitting up,” one source told the New York Post. “He has a long road ahead of him.
The events that led to the attack on the veteran officer began at approximately 5:40 p.m. on Friday, when a panhandler entered the Gold Mine Nail Salon on Mother Gaston Boulevard.
The suspect, later identified as 26-year-old Dewayne Hawkes, asked to use the business’s bathroom, but was turned away, the New York Daily News reported.
Undeterred, Hawkes made his way to the nail salon’s kitchen, locked the door, and began urinating on the floor.
According to the criminal complaint, one employee “heard the sound of the defendant urinating in said kitchen, and observed urine on the floor of the kitchen when defendant left.”
Employees spotted Officer Lafontant and his partner passing by in their patrol vehicle, so they flagged them down.
But as the officers attempted to take Hawkes into custody, t-shirt vendor Kwesi Ashun burst into the salon, and slammed a chair into Officer Lafontant’s face, the New York Daily News reported.
The injured officer’s rookie partner deployed his Taser, but it was not effective, according to the New York Post.
The veteran officer was able to fire six rounds as he was being attacked, and at least one bullet struck 33-year-old Ashun in the head.
Ashun was pronounced dead at the scene, according to the New York Post.
Meanwhile, Hawkes fled the scene with handcuffs dangling from one wrist, the New York Daily News reported.
He was apprehended by additional officers a short while later, and was subsequently charged with disorderly conduct, criminal trespass, obstructing governmental administration, and resisting arrest, according to WNBC.
Hawkes also had a warrant out for his arrest at the time of the incident.
Officer Lafontant’s rookie partner was transported to the hospital for treatment of tinnitus due to the gunshot blasts, and has since been released, the New York Post reported.
It was not the first time Ashun had attacked a New York police officer.
In October of 2004, he sliced Officer James Sinnott’s face with a knife, cutting him from his ear to his neck in an unprovoked attack, the New York Post reported.
Officer Sinnott had been doing nothing more than walking past him in the moments before the altercation.
After slashing the officer, Ashun walked away.
Officers used pepper spray and batons to take him into custody, and ultimately transported him to the hospital as an “emotionally disturbed person,” according to the New York Daily News.
A second officer, New York Police Officer Brian Risano, was also injured during the brawl.
The case against Ashun was sealed, and the disposition is unknown.
Just 11 days before he violently attacked Officer Lafontant, Ashun was evaluated by the New York Health Department’s “Mobile Crisis Team,” his sister told the New York Post.
Ashun allegedly had a history of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, but the team determined that he was not a risk to himself or others.
“He struggled with mental illness and we tried desperately to get help for him to no avail,” Ashun’s sister, Ama Bartley, told the New York Post. “Eleven days later, this is what happens…We tried, we really tried to get him help. He was a beautiful soul. He was just battling some heavy things.”
State Assemblywoman Latrice Walker described Ashun as a “peaceful young man.”
“I interacted with him moments before this took place. He asked me if I would be interested in buying the T-shirts he was selling,” Walker told the New York Post. “He was promoting a business he was trying to kick off.”
"Our community is definitely traumatized today because this was a senseless death,” the assemblywoman told WNBC.
Ashun’s friend, Kabar Walker, said that Ashun was not a threat to anyone, and alleged that the officer’s use of deadly force was “excessive,” the New York Daily News reported.
“He was less than threat than a person who had a knife or a gun," he told the paper. "You [also] have [a] partner to help you too, to restrain him in some way, without having to use deadly force on him.”
Kabar said that if Ashun had some kind of marker to identify him as a mentally ill individual, the officer might have tried harder not to use deadly force as he was being bludgeoned in the face.
“Maybe they can show some kind of wristband or color band on they ankle so when the cops see these things on these guys they can think twice,” he suggested, according to WCBS.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said that the attack on Officer Lafontant was “not acceptable,” and demanded a “full investigation” into the incident.
“A civilian assaulted a police officer violently and that is not acceptable,” de Blasio told the New York Daily News. “We need an investigation of everything that happened here as per usual with the use of force, but I also want to make very clear we’ve got an officer in a medically induced coma right now. I just need to put that front and center — that is not acceptable.”