2018-03-07 / Front Page

Finest Honor Eddie Byrne At 30th Anniversary Mass, Vigil

By Liz Goff
Timothy Cardinal Dolan addressed a sea of blue at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on February 28th, recalling the too-short life of Police Officer Edward Byrne, along with the horror of Byrne’s murder and the legacy left behind by the young cop.

“It’s clear to me this morning that never, ever will we forget Police Officer Edward Byrne,” Dolan said. “We remember him with fervent love, honor and prayer.”

His fellow cops called him “rookie.” Police Officer Eddie Byrne was just 22-years-old when he sat guarding the home of a man who witnessed and spoke out against drug dealers who ravaged a south Jamaica neighborhood in the late 1980s.

Byrne, who was assigned to the 103rd Precinct in Jamaica, sat alone in a patrol car on the frigid night of February 26, 1988, a canine cage blocking his view of the mean streets behind him. He couldn’t see the dented yellow Dodge in his rearview mirror as it rolled toward the end of Inwood Street with his assassins inside. The Dodge passed Byrne’s car twice that night before the team of assassins carried out their deadly assignment to kill a cop.

Byrne was suddenly distracted by the face of a crack head that appeared in the front passenger window of his patrol car. The gunman screamed as Byrne reached for the holstered gun in his lap. He never got a chance to use it.

A second crack head standing on the driver’s side of the car held a nickel- plated revolver roughly eight inches from Byrne’s head. The young cop was turning to his left when his assassin struck. The first round tore through the left side of his face. A second round tore into the dying cop’s right temple. Three more shots followed, and Eddie Byrne was dead, assassinated on the orders of an imprisoned drug lord.

“Eddie was killed only five days after his 22nd birthday,” Larry Byrne said. “It was meant by an imprisoned violent drug dealer to be an act of intimidation against the police and the criminal justice system.”

More than a thousand cops scoured the streets of south Jamaica in search of Byrne’s killers. Retired NYPD Lieutenant Phillip Panzarella and Detective Eddie Granshaw were two of those cops. The normally hardboiled Panzarella, who went on to head the Queens Homicide Squad, softened at the mention of Byrne’s murder.

“This was different,” Panzarella said. “The climate among cops and the community was filled with shock and outrage. This couldn’t be compared with other cop homicides,” Panzarella said. “This was an out-and-out assassination.”

In the end, four low-level drug players from south Jamaica were arrested and sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Eddie Byrne. Cops busted open a multi-million dollar crack ring that had been operated by Howard “Pappy” Mason for jailed drug kingpin, Lorenzo “Fat Cat” Nichols. It was on an order from the jailed Nichols, relayed by Mason from a Rikers Island jail cell that Todd Scott, Scott Cobb, Philip “Marshal” Copeland and David McClary orchestrated and carried out Byrne’s murder. The four assassins told police following their arrests that they shared a total of $8,000 for killing the young cop.

Cobb, who drove the Dodge, said in his videotaped confession that Mason, who had been jailed for killing his parole officer, hoped to send a message through the murder of an NYPD officer. “We lose one, they lose one,” Mason said.

McClary, who pulled the trigger, Todd Scott, Scott Cobb and Philip Copeland have been denied parole four times since 2012. Police union head Patrick Lynch has vowed to renew his plea to future parole board members to “show the same mercy “ to the four killers “that they showed Eddie Byrne on the last night of his life.”

More than 10,000 cops from across the country, Canada and Europe traveled to a church on Long Island to bury Eddie Byrne in early March 1988. It was, at that time, the largest police funeral in history.

Byrne’s assassination led to the establishment of the Tactical Narcotics Task Force in April 1988. Officers assigned to the task force played a key role in the highly successful, nationwide war on crack that tore at the seams of drug dealers.
Mason is serving life in prison at a maximum-security facility in Florence, Colorado.

A circa-1980s NYPD cruiser sits at the intersection of 107th Avenue and Inwood Street, a grim reminder of the sacrifice made by Police Officer Eddie Byrne on the last night of his short life. Dozens of cops gathered with Byrne’s family and friends at the site just after midnight on March 4, calling on people to “never forget” the young cop or the legacy he left behind.

“Thirty years ago we made a promise,” a fellow officer told the crowd. “We promised that we would never forget Edward Byrne, and we have kept that promise. Not just on the anniversary of his death, but in all he days and on all the jobs that have followed.” The cop glanced at a photo of Byrne that stood at the site, surrounded by floral arrangements and said, “Eddie Byrne made a difference. His short life mattered.”

Lawrence Byrne said that while his brother’s murder was intended to be an act of intimidation against the NYPD, it backfired and had the opposite effect. “There could be no greater tribute to Eddie than the drive to fight down crime and prevent the kind of crime that took his life in the early morning hours of February 26, 1988,” Lawrence Byrne said.

“On that night, crack became everybody’s problem,” Panzarella said. Federal and state law enforcement became involved in the battle against New York City’s crack epidemic, And in the end, law enforcement won the war that had claimed Eddie Byrne’s life.”

Byrne’s devastated dad, Matthew Byrne, a retired NYPD lieutenant, cried openly outside a Queens courthouse on the day Mason was convicted. “He just gave in to the horrible memory of the murder and slumped over his car crying,” Panzarella recalled “I believe the whole city cried with him that day.”

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