Even killer of police officer is 'shocked' by lax justice.
ATTICA, N.Y. — Lamont Pride said he kept his head low and his eyes straight ahead the day he walked out of a Brooklyn courtroom to freedom. Inside, a prosecutor had just finished announcing that Pride was wanted for shooting a man in North Carolina, and Pride was certain that he wouldn't make it to the end of the hallway before police put him back in handcuffs.
Only later did he realize that he really was free to go because authorities in Greensboro, N.C., had already decided that they would not come get him.
A month later, still free, Pride shot and killed New York police officer Peter Figoski during a drug robbery in Brooklyn.
"To this day, I'm still surprised," Pride said in an interview with USA TODAY at the maximum-security prison where he is serving 45 years to life for Figoski's murder. "I didn't think that I was going to make it as far as I did when I walked out of that courtroom. It really shocked me, and I was surprised that they let me walk out of there with a warrant for my arrest (for a crime) that serious."
Figoski's death in December 2011 at the hands of a fugitive — the second such killing in New York in less than a decade — sparked an immediate uproar. "He should not have been out on the streets," New York's police commissioner, Ray Kelly, complained at the time.
In Greensboro, however — as in many cities — authorities regularly opt to let fugitives accused of serious felonies remain on the streets rather than spending the time or money to retrieve them from other states, a USA TODAY investigation has found. Greensboro police will not pick up half of the fugitives they listed in an FBI database if they are found outside of North Carolina, records show. As of last May, that includes people accused of armed robbery, sexual assault, kidnapping and at least one gun assault.
Lamont Pride describes being taken in by police, and then having a judge let him go. Eileen Blass, Robert Orlowski, Shannon Rae Green, Brad Heath, Steve Elfers
"A lot of times we're not going to bring somebody back," acknowledged Howard Neumann, the chief assistant district attorney in Guilford County, N.C., which includes Greensboro. "It becomes to some degree a cost decision. We just can't bring everybody back."
In interviews with USA TODAY in November and January, Pride denied having shot anyone in North Carolina, though he admitted that he was involved in an "altercation" there. He said he left for New York to escape retaliation on the street, not the police. And he said that the authorities should have known where to find him, because "they've got it on record down there that I'm from New York."
Police in Greensboro got a warrant for Pride's arrest on Sept. 23, 2011, charging him with pulling a gun during an argument and shooting Rayshawn Maberson in the foot. They entered his name into the FBI's fugitive database along with a code saying they would not extradite Pride if he happened to be found outside North Carolina.
New York police officers found him a little more than a month later, on Nov. 3, after they forced their way through the door of a public housing apartment where he was spending the night with friends. The police seized packages of crack cocaine — Pride said they were his — and took Pride and two friends to a Coney Island police station. Waiting in a holding area, Pride said a detective asked whether he had ever been down South, then told him there was a warrant for his arrest in Greensboro. "I knew they're not going to let me go," he recalled telling his friends.
The next day, the police took him to court in Brooklyn, where Judge Evelyn Laporte did let him go without requiring that he post even the $2,500 bail prosecutors had requested.
New York police and prosecutors declined to discuss that case. The court's records are sealed under a law that automatically closes a case to inspection if it is resolved in the defendant's favor.
Neumann and Greensboro police officials said they did not approve extradition for Pride because they didn't think he would leave town and because he was a "lower risk offender." Officials changed their minds after New York police alerted them that they had Pride in custody, but by the time they replied that they were willing to come get him, Pride had been released.
Like most places, New York does not keep track of how often its officers put fugitives back on the streets. But it happens with some regularity, former New York City corrections chief Martin Horn said. "The whole thing can make your head spin," he said.
Six years before Figoski was murdered, another fugitive, Allan Cameron, shot and killed another New York officer, Dillon Stewart. Cameron was wanted in Philadelphia on a charge of assaulting a police officer, but the police there never listed his name in the FBI's database of fugitives. Philadelphia authorities said they asked New York officials to detain Cameron after he was arrested on unrelated charges; New York officials said they had no record of that request. So Cameron, like Pride, walked out of the Brooklyn courthouse. He shot Stewart in the armpit during a traffic stop.
A little more than a month after Pride went free, he and three other men embarked on what he called "some dumb robbery" of marijuana from a basement apartment in Brooklyn. "I got that feeling — you know, that feeling in your gut — telling me this is wrong. The only reason I agreed with it was because I'm greedy for the money," he said.
A neighbor quickly called police. Pride and another of the would-be robbers, Kevin Santos, hid in a boiler room while two officers searched the basement. Then they bolted for the front steps, where they encountered two more officers outside. Santos grappled with Figoski's partner, Glenn Estrada. Pride turned toward Figoski — a 22-year veteran of the department and the father of four daughters — and fired one shot, hitting him under his left eye.
Pride told USA TODAY that he did not intend to shoot Figoski. "When I ran into him, that's when the gun went off, and I didn't stop to think if anyone got hit or anything like that," he said. He threw the gun under a car and ran. Police caught him four blocks away.
Jurors convicted Pride of second-degree murder, but acquitted him of more serious intentional-murder charges.
Figoski's mother, Mary Ann Figoski, said the decision to let Pride go free after he was first arrested in New York "led to a lot of what-ifs. What if he had been extradited? Things would obviously have been a lot different."
What troubles her more, she said, is the thought that even being charged with a shooting "didn't put the fear of God in him." Nor did getting away. "He had a choice then and he just went back to doing exactly what he wanted. So he was surprised, but he wasn't grateful, not in the sense that you or I would be," she said.
"He created a tremendous amount of devastation for a lot of people," Mary Ann Figoski said.
Pride, too, said he wonders what would have happened had North Carolina extradited him. "Maybe I'd have been better off down there. It beats the hell out of what I've got here," he said.
Still, police said Pride has no one to blame but himself. "There's only one person responsible for killing officer Figoski, and that's Lamont Pride," Greensboro Police Chief Ken Miller said. "You just can't make excuses around why you were continuing to engage in illegal and dangerous behavior."
Contact investigative reporter Brad Heath at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @bradheath on Twitter