Editor’s note: This story was updated on July 18 at 5:55 p.m. to provide new details.
NEW BEDFORD — Mayor Jon Mitchell said a police detective is lucky to be alive and in stable condition after a bullet struck his face Monday night while he was conducting undercover surveillance in a neighborhood next to Ashley Park.
Mitchell said if the bullet had struck differently by just a small distance, the outcome could have been far worse: “It was an extremely close call.”
Det. Lavar Gilbert, who has served the department for 17 years, much of it in the narcotics division, drove himself to St. Luke’s Hospital after being shot, where he remains for medical treatment.
Law enforcement officials during a press conference Tuesday said evidence at this time does not suggest the police or Det. Gilbert were targets, and it seems he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Police also said there is no reason to believe there is an ongoing threat to safety in the Goulart Square neighborhood.
Bristol County DA Thomas Quinn said the investigation is in its early stages, and that he has assigned prosecutors to the case. He called the shooting “wanton and reckless,” as Rivet Street can be a busy neighborhood, especially during summer nights.
Quinn and Mitchell said law enforcement are pursuing several leads, and noted technology will play an important role in their investigation.
On scene Monday night after the shooting, Massachusetts State Police officials viewed surveillance footage captured by corner shops at the intersection where the shooting occurred.
Several homes and other storefronts along Rivet and Orchard Streets also had cameras, with one directly next to where a bullet was found in the siding of a house.
Mark M., owner of Primo’s Pizza who did not want to provide his last name, said police obtained information from cameras in his shop, which sits on one corner of the intersection. From the exterior, there were three interior cameras pointing toward different parts of the street and intersection.
He said one camera caught some of the shooting, and that it appeared someone shot from the rear passenger seat of a car, per the footage.
A worker who was at the pizzeria at the time said he heard “boom boom.”
Police Chief Paul Oliveira said he is confident it was a random act of violence in the Goulart Square neighborhood, and thanked Gilbert for his commitment to his duties as a detective.
According to NBPD, an adult male arrived at St. Luke’s with a non-life-threatening gunshot wound to his foot shortly after Gilbert was admitted. Chief Oliveira said the male and his wound were related to the shooting. NBPD said Tuesday that neither Gilbert nor any other NBPD officers fired their weapons during the shooting.
Until about 1 a.m, MSP officers photographed and collected evidence, including a tank top, a blood-stained t-shirt, a sock, a broken glass bottle and bullet casings.
The sock appeared to have a hole in it when police turned it over for photographing.
The last time a NBPD officer was shot in the line of duty was about a decade ago, Chief Oliveira estimated.
The investigation is ongoing, with assistance from MSP and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Mitchell encouraged the public to come forward or use the police department’s tip line if they have any information that could aid the investigation.
In a statement issued Tuesday afternoon, Chief Oliveira said he was grateful that Gilbert is expected to recover.
“We are very thankful for the outpouring of support from members of the community, as well as the many law enforcement agencies who have reached out,” he stated. “Please keep our detective and his family in your thoughts as he continues to heal.”
Gilbert has been involved in major drug raids and seizures with the Organized Crime Intelligence Bureau unit (also known as OCIB), per department releases, including a large fentanyl seizure in 2021 and an investigation into a fentanyl distribution operation last month with the arrest of a Rhode Island man.
MSP did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday. NBPD Public Information Officer Lt. Scott Carola said around noon Tuesday that no arrests have been made.
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