Cop Killer, Tyrone Howard, Didn’t Take Advantage of the Second Chances

© Karsten Moran for The New York Times Tyrone Howard being escorted from the 25th Precinct in Harlem last week.
© Karsten Moran for The New York Times Tyrone Howard being escorted from the 25th Precinct in Harlem last week.

It was lunchtime on a June day in 2009, and Tyrone Howard, nicknamed Peanut for the shape of his head, shot a drug rival on a crowded outdoor basketball court in East Harlem, according to court documents. But after Mr. Howard was arrested, the case fell apart and he was not prosecuted.

The episode went unmentioned in court this spring when a judge sent Mr. Howard, who is 30, to treatment instead of prison after his fifth conviction on a drug charge.

It was the latest in a string of breaks for Mr. Howard in his two-decade odyssey through the criminal justice system, like the jobs program he was allowed into after being convicted of armed robbery as a youthful offender, or the prison sentence in 2011 that was curtailed, his lawyer says, when he offered prosecutors information on a different case.

But if the legal system bent to help him, the drug trade did not, and his bad acts would stalk him through the open courtyards and darkened corners of the East River Houses in Upper Manhattan.

Even six years later, he was running from drug rivals who had nursed a grudge since he avoided being charged in the 2009 shooting, friends said. He was running from the police, too, ever more desperately after he became a suspect in a gunfight on Sept. 1 that friends said was linked to the same feud.

By the time Mr. Howard was taken into custody last week, he had killed a New York City police officer, the authorities said. On Wednesday, the slain officer, Randolph Holder, is to be mourned by thousands of colleagues in a police funeral in Jamaica, Queens.

In the hours and days after his death, as details of Mr. Howard’s criminal history began to emerge, a wave of criticism flowed from city officials pained that Mr. Howard had won relief from a legal system more primed than ever to look for alternatives to incarceration.

But the aftermath of the killing has raised questions about some of the programs that provide those alternatives, such as how candidates are vetted for drug diversion programs like the one Mr. Howard was in and the inconsistency of information that judges must rely on to make decisions that can affect public safety.

Mr. Howard’s history has also illustrated how a man with a history of winning second chances from the courts ended up in a trap of his own making on the street.

In recent months, Mr. Howard moved between crack houses, friends said. He stopped going to his construction job, fearful that co-workers, too, had become his enemies. He plunged deeper into his PCP addiction.

“I don’t think they should ever have let him out,” said Anthony Howard, his brother. “They should have given him some help instead of letting him out.”

Mr. Howard considered turning himself in, or fleeing to relatives in the South, he told friends. But instead, he decided to stand his ground in the East River Houses, a place where he had lived and sold drugs since at least 2005 and had weathered previous disputes with other dealers.

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