There was no legal basis to revoke the pistol permit of a man who later used the weapon to kill four people during a pharmacy robbery, a police commissioner said Friday in response to questions about how a detective's report on David Laffer months before the killings had been handled.
Laffer pleaded guilty earlier this month to first-degree murder after shooting two employees and two customers at a small Long Island pharmacy on June 19 _ Father's Day _ making off with a backpack full of prescription painkillers. He is facing consecutive life-without-parole prison sentences.
Newsday reported Friday that a detective investigating Laffer in an unrelated case in January reported concerns to the license bureau after the 33-year-old Laffer acknowledged having a pistol license. The detective's attorney has suggested the bureau wasn't "conscientious" in pursing the matter.
"A review of the Laffer notification indicated that there was no basis under the law to seize his weapons," Suffolk County Police Commissioner Richard Dormer said in a statement. He said the pistol and license bureau "followed each and every procedure required under the police department's procedures" as well as state and federal law.
"It must be noted that prior to June 19, there was no indication that Laffer exhibited violence, no one insinuated that he was using or carrying drugs, no one brought charges against him and he did not have a criminal record," Dormer said.
Dormer's statement came after Newsday reported that Suffolk County Detective Kenneth Ripp expressed concerns after meeting Laffer in January that he had been issued a pistol permit. The newspaper cited a police document obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
Laffer's mother had reported the theft of $8,220 from her bank account, but when Ripp and a colleague went to investigate, she told them she learned her son had taken the money, but she didn't want to press charges. Ripp then contacted the police department's Pistol License Bureau after Laffer said he owned weapons and had a valid permit.
Ripp said in his report that he was told by an officer in the permit bureau that Laffer should be allowed to retain the permits, but there would be a follow-up investigation.
Ripp was not available for questions Friday, but his attorney said the veteran officer had concerns about Laffer.
"His instincts were that something was going on," attorney Jeffrey Goldberg told The Associated Press. "If the bureau was conscientious, they would have found a reason to confiscate the guns."
The gun crime was the deadliest on Long Island since a gunman shot up a commuter railroad train in 1993, killing six, and focused national attention on the nagging problem of prescription drug robberies.
Authorities said Laffer walked into the pharmacy and opened fire without announcing a robbery, killing a pharmacist and a 17-year-old store clerk. He then fatally shot two customers who unwittingly walked in on the carnage, authorities said, before he filled his backpack with hydrocodone-type painkillers.
Laffer's wife, Melinda Brady, who admitted driving the getaway car, faces up to 25 years in prison after pleading guilty to robbery charges.
Laffer claimed in a jailhouse interview with Newsday on Friday that even if the pistol permit had been revoked, the outcome of his bloodshed would likely have been the same.
"If someone's dedicated enough, they can get a gun," Laffer told the newspaper.
He also claimed that the first shot was an accident as he pulled the weapon from his backpack, but then decided he had to go forward with the killings. District Attorney Thomas Spota called Laffer "an outrageous liar" and said video surveillance shows him deliberately firing the first shot at the pharmacist through his backpack.
Laffer told the newspaper he committed the robbery because he had lost his job, and his wife required not only painkillers but also blood pressure medicine, anti-nausea pills, and muscle relaxants. He said reports that he stole 10,000 prescription hydrocodone pills are inaccurate. "No little pharmacy has 10,000 hydrocodone," he said.
He also said he expects he will be killed in prison.
"I'm not even under any illusions that I'd make it 15 years," he told Newsday. "It'll serve as a punishment."