The tragic story of a misguided bullet to the head of Hofstra student Andrea Rebello was bad enough, but Nassau County police can’t let it be. As it stood, Officer Nikolas Budimlic was the goat, having rushed into a house with hostages and killed a hostage along with the criminal. When the whole point of the exercise is to save people from crime and dying, shooting a college coed in the head is hard to justify. Not that the department and union wouldn’t try their darndest.
As is usually the case, it would all be cleared up by the subsequent investigation, which would certainly explain how poor Andrea Rebello failed to survive this exercise in modern policing. And indeed, an investigation followed. Unfortunately, it appears that the point of the investigation wasn’t to figure out the role the Nassau County police played in this tragedy, or even to come up with a better course of action so that they didn’t pump a bullet into a girl’s head in the future. Nope. That would prove to be a useful investigation only if one doesn’t appreciate the perspective of police.
A Hofstra University senior whose girlfriend was killed by a police bullet during an off-campus hostage standoff in May says he’s no longer willing to cooperate with the investigation into her death because he and his lawyer believe police are trying to make him a “scapegoat.”
The natural reaction when someone refuses to “cooperate” with police is invariably what are they trying to hide? Sometimes, the answer has nothing to do with hiding.
Bradley Wilson, 22, of upstate Middletown, said in his first extensive interview since Andrea Rebello’s death that he stopped speaking to Nassau police after officers were aggressive and accusatory in the hours following her death even though he hadn’t been there when the shooting happened and had no connection at all to the case.
Wilson may not have been anywhere near the house when Dalton Smith came in with his gun, or when Nikolas Budimlic came in with his gun, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be a target. It’s unclear whether Rebello was so squeaky-clean that the police couldn’t find a mean thing to say about her, or that they decided it was poor form to call a pretty dead girl bad names, but they still needed a warm body. With the right person, they could issue a press release all about how the public should be angry with someone other than Officer Budimlic. They needed to give the public someone they could hate more than the cop who put the bullet in Rebello’s head.
That’s where Wilson came in. Speculation is rampant that Smith didn’t pick Rebello’s house out of the phonebook, and that he came there because he expected to find something worth his while in the house. That something is believed to be drugs, because, you know, college kids, Hofstra, drugs.
Given that overarching need to find someone more villainous than Officer Budimlic, and in the absence of any remotely viable Al Qaeda connection (which is always the best argument if possible), the police were constrained to sweat Wilson.
“When they were questioning me they seemed like they were very angry or something — like they were trying to make a connection between me and the guy [who took her hostage]. They said, ‘Do you know of anything bad that goes on here? Do you know anything about drugs, or do you do drugs?’ And I don’t.” They tried to question him again at Rebello’s wake, he said, but he avoided them.
Wilson said he believes that police would like to muddy Rebello’s name and his to make it appear that they brought the tragedy on themselves.
And to demonstrate the efficacy of the point, comments to the Newsday article are replete with brilliant speculation about how he must have been some sort of drug dealer, despite the absence of anything whatsoever to suggest such a thing, because, well, just because. Another adventure in crowdsourcing.
Is it possible that someone, whether Wilson or another person, was involved with drugs that somehow caused Dalton Smith to pick Rebello’s house as the one to rob? Sure. It’s possible. Like pretty much anything is possible. But there is no basis to think it, and that could really hamper a fine police investigation into why an officer isn’t the worst of the bad guys involved.
But nobody seemed troubled by the unseemly nature of harshly interrogating the boyfriend of a young woman who just died from a bullet to her head when there was no basis for the belief the he had any connection whatsoever to the robbery or the killing. After all, there was a police officer’s reputation and future at risk, and sacrificing Wilson to the salvation of Budimlic was barely worth a thought.
And yet, it gets worse. Rather than contact Wilson to inform him of the tragedy that befell his girlfriend, the police treated him as the perp to be nailed from the outset:
At first, police gave Wilson incorrect information about how many residents of the house had been shot, he said. Then after they questioned him, they clarified it was Andrea who was dead. “I walked away from the house crying,” he said. “All I knew was that there was a robbery in the house and she had been shot.”
After all, had they told him the truth up front, they might not have been able to persuade him to make statements that conformed with the narrative the police so desperately wanted to hear. And that wouldn’t have helped one of their own at all, which is ultimately what this investigation was all about.