Joseph Stepinski

Former NYPD officer shoots neighbor who he believed plotted against him

A former NYPD officer jailed for shooting his neighbor claims the victim was part of a conspiracy to get him kicked out of the rent-stabilized apartment he’d lived in for over 30 years.

DNAinfo reports that during an interview at Rikers Island prison on Friday, Gene Barrett, 51, insisted that his landlord and neighbors had plotted against him and that he was a victim of an ongoing campaign to push him out of the building, leading up to the March 6 death of Joseph Stepinski (pictured above), who Barrett fatally shot in the head.

The former police officer was convinced that Stepinski and Stepinski’s girlfriend, Melissa Rotundo, along with business owners on the block, were trying to kick him out of the building.

“They were all working together to get me out…they were listening to me from the window, listening to me from the yard.”

Neighbors said that though there was no plan set in place to have the man kicked out, they did want him out of the building because he was often temperamental and behaved erratically.

During the Rikers Island interview, Barrett told DNAinfo that his neighbors had for years been filing false police reports against him and that authorities were investigating him, even coming in and out of his apartment to record him.

However, police reports and 911 calls dating back to 2014 show a different story. It turns out that it was Barrett who made most of the complaints. Only two calls came from neighbors complaining about him.

Since 2014, Barrett called the police at least eight times reporting harassment by his neighbors and landlord.

Neighbors called 911 on Barrett in February of 2014 when he was in the hall cursing and sloshing water. He was also causing damage to one of the building’s light fixtures.

In June 2014, he called police to report harassment by a neighbor, but there were no details.

A month later in July, he left a threatening note on the front of the building, so neighbors called police on him.

Barrett reported that his landlord Eugene Torhan, 64, was filming him and trying to get him out of the apartment in October 2014. Just weeks later, he called again to report that someone had thrown paint and slashed the tires of his Grand Marquis.

Months later in April 2015, Barrett called police when his lights went out and he believed his landlord was trying to mess with him.

Rotundo said that she and Torhan were trying to get downstairs to get the lights back on, but Barrett was harassing them.

“[Gene] was screaming in the hallway, threatening us. I actually thought he was going to lock us downstairs. I told my son to stay by the phone.”

In May 2016, he reported that his landlord was harassing him and tried to steal his mailbox.

On Sept. 28, Barrett went down to the 94th Precinct station house to file a report.

Barrett claimed that he had overheard a conversation between Stepinski and Rotundo in which they threatened “to stab this motherf–ker,” then phoned police to say, “he is an ex cop, his name is Gene… He pointed a gun at me…I seen it.” He also admitted, however, that he heard them say, “I thought it was a gun, we don’t need you now.”

911 call logs show that Barrett was the only one to call police that day to report the couple making false police reports against him.

On March 6, 2017, Barrett shot Stepinski in the head on the sidewalk in front of the building. He took the man’s phone and locked himself in Stepinski and Rotundo’s apartment for two hours during a standoff with police. At one point in the standoff, he pointed a gun at an officer and said, “it was me.”

Stepinski died four days later in the hospital.

He and Rotundo had been dating for two years. She said that since his death, she has had trouble coping.

“The worst part is he did traumatize us. He did threaten us. It was real. You think, ‘Oh these things don’t happen, but they do. And every time I look around I see memories of this man standing there.”

Barrett was a former NYPD officer who went on disability in 2001 after he slipped and fell inside the 18th Precinct stationhouse. He had previously suffered a minor brain injury during a labor rally.

[Feature photo: DNAinfo]