Cop Dodges Serious Injury, Suspect's Bullet Deflected By Belt
A wild gun battle played out in the Baruch Houses early Monday morning on the Lower East Side with cops and a shooter exchanging more than a dozen shots and cops tracking the alleged shooter after following a trail of his own blood.

The only thing that kept the 12-year-veteran officer from being shot and possibly killed? His very own bullets.

NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly needed few words to express his thoughts. "Thank god we have another miracle," said Kelly who knows just how lucky Officer Thomas Richards is--narrowly escaping a bullet wound after being shot at close range, just some 10 feet away.

It all played out at Columbia Drugs on the Lower East Side where Officers Thomas Dunne and Thomas Richards saw a man acting suspiciously shortly before 2 this morning. They approached, in uniform, from a marked NYPD van to talk to the guy, who mumbled something to himself before whipping out a golden 9mm gun and squeezing off a shot, according to police.

It struck Officer Richards, but the officer's own bullets saved his life. A spare ammo clip, strapped to the cops belt, took the hit. No wound, not even a blunt trauma injury for Richards.

"If it had been up an inch it would have been in the officer's body. It was a fully loaded 9mm," said Commissioner Kelly as he showed a picture of the two ammunition magazines that Officer Richards was wearing at the time of the shooting, one of them with a visible dent where the 9mm struck the metal.

Gilmore James and his wife heard the shots outside their front door.

"Two or three shots. Like firecrackers. Pop, pop, pop. I look out the window I see a whole lot of people running," he recounted of the crazy events.

It was a wild gun battle that woke up sleeping neighbors in the Baruch Houses. The perp fired at cops three separate times along a two block run back to his apartment. Each time the officers returned fire as they ran across the street from the guy.

Finally, officers fired and hit 25-year-old Luis Martinez in the leg after he squeezed off his last shots outside 64 Baruch Drive. Cops only had to follow the trail of blood to his 6th floor apartment where he gave up unarmed. Both officers were unharmed.

Commissioner Kelly met both officers this morning, as is common after a police involved shooting. "I spoke to him, and he was very happy and upbeat, both he and his partner," said Kelly

It's been a bad two months for the NYPD: four officers have been shot since December, one of them fatally. Detective Peter Figoski was shot and killed in December while pursuing a man with a gun in Brooklyn. He is survived by his four daughters.

Officer Kevin Brennan, a new dad, narrowly escaped death when he was shot in the head at point blank range last month. He still has some peripheral vision loss, but miraculously survived even as the shooter is seen on videotape surveillance cameras firing twice at the officer. The gun misfired the second time.

And Officer Kevin Herlihy took a bullet to the arm in Harlem on Valentine's Day as he pursued an armed man in the subway. He shot and killed the perpetrator.

It all underscores under staffing according to the president of the police officer's union, the PBA. Pat Lynch spoke outside Supreme Court in Brooklyn where Luis Ortiz was in a hearing. Ortiz is accused of shooting Officer Brennan. "We are 7000 police officers short. We need help and we need it now," said Lynch in a plea for more funding to keep cops on the streets of New York.

Martinez is still at Bellevue Hospital in stable condition recovering from the gunshot wound. The bullet did not lodge in his leg, but left both an entry and exit wound.

Police say they recovered a bag of marijuana at the scene, which may have been Martinez's motive for running and shooting. Police are also investigating whether he may have been trying to break into the drug store to steal narcotics.

Martinez has nine prior arrests. While half of them are sealed, mostly because he was a minor when he was arrested, the remainder were for low level crimes like graffiti or turnstile jumping, although he has one assault on his record.