What started as a party at Nico’s Pizzeria on State Street turned into gunfire in downtown Schenectady early Sunday morning.
Schenectady police initially responded to a fight in the area on State Street, but after that incident settled down a separate fight broke out in the parking lot of Citizens Bank involving two city men firing handguns with dozens of individuals and police officers nearby, according to Lt. Mark McCracken.
Officers responded to a fight outside Nico’s at 441 State St. around 2:22 a.m. with “significant mutual response,” McCracken said. One woman was detained and later released, he said.
“We cleared the street,” he said. “A lot of cops were out there. There was a party being held upstairs at Nico’s at the time.”
McCracken said after people involved in the fight dispersed, the music was turned off at Nico’s and people inside started filtering out. That’s when an officer spotted another fight near Citizens Bank at 501 State St.
“Individuals who had issues with each other inside the bar walked toward the parking lot behind the bank,” he said. “Police officers started running over at that point.”
Ronald Diggs, 25, of Grant Avenue, and Ramell Steward, 29, of Steinmetz Homes, produced handguns and began shooting at a third party, according to police.
Steward is accused of pointing a handgun at Damien Bethea, 24, of Rotterdam, according to court documents.
Steward was taken into custody after a short foot pursuit and brief struggle with officers.
“He was told to stop, show his hands and get on the ground,” court documents state. “He refused the lawful order by uniformed police officers, threw a loaded handgun and continued to run from officers until he was caught a block down on the street at State and Lafayette streets.”
Diggs was located a short distance from the scene and was taken into custody without incident.
Diggs is accused of possessing a loaded Keltec 9mm handgun and Steward with possessing a loaded .22 caliber handgun. Police took possession of both handguns.
“They were inside Nico’s when the first fight happened,” McCracken said. “That’s the only reason we had a strong police presence there. That’s the thing that is most shocking. They walked right by us and saw us there.”
A total of about a dozen people were detained following the incident, McCracken said.
“A lot of people took off running,” he said.
Steward and Diggs were charged with criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree, a felony.
Steward was also charged with menacing in the second degree, obstructing governmental administration in the second degree and resisting arrest, all misdemeanors.
Bethea was charged with obstructing governmental administration in the second degree and resisting arrest.
“He was the only one that elected not to comply,” McCracken said. “He began resisting officers.”
None of the charges as filed formally accuse Steward or Diggs of firing guns. Additional charges are possible, McCracken said.
Both Steward and Diggs were arraigned today and ordered held on $15,000 bail.
Schenectady police Sgt. Jonathan Moore injured his ankle during the incident. There were no other reported injuries.
Schenectady police officers were assisted by members of the state police as well as Rotterdam and Guilderland police departments and the Schenectady County Sheriff’s Department.
The downtown incident has sparked renewed concerns over safety there at night.
The shooting occurred as downtown is bustling with people during the staging of “The Lion King” at Proctors, which debuted last Tuesday and runs until April 17.
Nico’s Pizzeria owner Philip Ruggerio could not be reached for comment today. The restaurant is typically open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 10 p.m. on Sunday, according to the website.
Several establishments in the area opt to stay open later and continue serving alcohol based on demand, including Nico’s and others like Bombers Burrito Bar and Zen Asian Fusion Lounge.
A couple of nearby bar and restaurant owners expressed concerns about activity downtown but declined to comment for this story.
At least one bullet fired during the incident hit a nearby office window.
Attorney John Della Ratta said he arrived at his law office at 147 Barrett St. this morning to discover what appeared to be a bullet hole about 10 feet above the sidewalk in a window, what would be about eye level for someone inside.
Della Ratta’s law office is about midway between State and Franklin streets.
Della Ratta shares the law office with his father, Richard Della Ratta. Della Ratta said he alerted police after discovering the damage.
“You could tell from the glass that whatever came through that window had a good amount of force to it,” John Della Ratta said.
Della Ratta said his father started the practice in 1961 and moved to Barrett Street in 1990. Della Ratta said he couldn’t remember a similar thing happening.
“Fortunately there was nobody here, but it’s a bit of a wake-up call,” Della Ratta said.
Councilman Vince Riggi said he believes the incident should prompt discussion about bars that are open late and ways to prevent violent crimes.
He said the shooting doesn’t reflect well on a “walkable downtown.”
“That’s pretty scary stuff,” he said. “Not that it happens a lot, but it can happen. Many people don’t feel like it’s safe to be walking downtown. It shows you the society we’re living in.”
Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett said he believes it’s “pretty quiet” downtown for the number of people who are out on any given night and the number of establishments open late.
“This incident was a great deal more serious with shots fired,” he said. “We haven’t had many of those and we don’t want many of those. I actually think the number of incidents downtown is quite minimal.”
Mayor Gary McCarthy said incidents like Sunday morning’s shooting would not be tolerated and that bars and restaurants in the area are held to high standards.
When asked if he feels downtown is safe at night, McCarthy responded by saying “yes.”
He noted that about 10 bars in the city were shut down since he became mayor in 2011.
“We want people to have a good time and enjoy the renaissance of downtown,” he said. “But we’re not going to tolerate misbehavior or rowdiness. Whoever has made the poor choices will be held accountable.”