Friday, August 14, 2009

Harlem Store owner kills shoots 4: 2 Dead during daylight Robbery

From the Daily News by BY Kerry Burke, Alison Gendar and Bill Hutchinson:

A shotgun-wielding owner of a Harlem restaurant-supply company blasted two robbers to death and wounded two others on Thursday when he caught them pistol-whipping his employee, police said.

Turning the tables on the brutish bandits, 72-year-old Charles (Gus) Augusto (photo: wearing blue shirt & Glasses opened fire with a 12-gauge shotgun he kept handy for such occasions, cops and witnesses said.

"He's been robbed before, so I'm not totally amazed," said Stefany Blyn, who rents a space above the store from Augusto.

"They ran into some tough stuff today," witness Vernon McKenzie, 48, said of the stickup men, including one whose bloody corpse was splayed on the sidewalk in front of Augusto's store on W. 125th St. near Amsterdam Ave.

The robbers stormed into the business, Kaplan Brothers Blue Flame, just after 3 p.m. demanding cash.

"He did a large cash business," a police source said. "They were probably watching the place and made a move after a sell."

Neighbors said Augusto, who was not charged last night, had sold a stove earlier in the day.

The stickup crew - three 21-year-olds and a 29-year-old - came prepared with a pistol and plastic handcuffs. They tried to tie up two of Augusto's employees - a 35-year-old man and his 47-year-old female co-worker, said Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Browne.

"The male employee started to struggle, and then, as he did that, the perp with the gun struck him once in the head," Browne said.

"... That's when the owner opened fire with the shotgun."

As the bandits bolted from the store, Augusto squeezed off three blasts from the pistol-grip shotgun from 20 to 30 feet away from the pistol-whipped employee.

He was deadly accurate. The four bandits - who were all from Manhattan - were hit.

Two of the robbers were struck in the back. One, identified as James Morgan, dropped dead inside the store among the sparkling gas stoves, a pistol near his body.

The other - Raylin Footmon, a nephew of a cop in the NYPD's 25th Precinct - made it across the street before collapsing on the sidewalk, police and witnesses said. He was later pronounced dead at St. Luke's Hospital.

The furious employee who had been pistol-whipped ran out of the store and leaned over the mortally wounded Footmon, cursing at him, witnesses said.

The worker went back into the store and dragged Morgan's body onto the sidewalk, yelling at him and kicking him, witnesses said.

"He stood over the body cursing him and shaking him, even though he was dead," said Matthew Viane, 38, who lives in the neighborhood. "He was screaming at him and stomping him. "He [the employee] said, 'You were going to kill me? Now you're dead!'"

Viane said he overheard the 35-year-old employee - whom cops took away from the scene in handcuffs, but later released - thanking Augusto.

"Gus, you saved my life. You saved my life," Viane quoted the worker as saying.

A man who worked at Blue Flame a couple of years ago unloading trucks said Augusto was just sticking up for himself.

"He's a respectable businessman. ... He wouldn't hurt a fly. He found a deer by his house and nursed him back to health. He loves animals," said the man, who declined to give his name.

Cops followed a bloody trail to Amsterdam Ave., where they found the third suspect, Bernard Whitherspoon. He was in police custody last night at St. Luke's where he was being treated for his wounds. He was in stable condition.

The remaining robbery suspect, Shamel McCloud, was nabbed at 128th St. and St. Nicholas Terrace after being identified by a witness. He was also in stable condition at St. Luke's last night.

Augusto told cops he bought his shotgun after a robbery nearly 30 years ago. Browne said it was unclear Thursday night if Augusto has a license for the weapon.

"He's being treated as a witness and the victim of an attempted robbery," Browne said of Augusto. "He has not been arrested or charged."

A police source said that if Augusto is hit with a charge, it will be a minor one. "It doesn't look too bad for him," the source said.

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