Noel Polanco, the 22 year-old unarmed National Guardsman shot dead on a Queens highway early yesterday morning was slain by a member of an elite NYPD tactical unit. The Queens District Attorney's Office has also announced a probe into the incident.
It has been revealed that Detective Hassan Hamdy, 39, and the other officers who stopped Polanco's 2012 Honda Fit and shot the soldier dead during a traffic stop on the Grand Central Parkway near LaGuardia Airport in Queens early yesterday morning were all members of the Apprehension Tactical Team of the New York City Police Department's Emergency Service Unit (ESU).
On that fateful morning, Polanco who worked at a Honda dealership had just picked up friend Diane DeFerrari, 36, from the Ice Lounge nightclub in Astoria.
DeFerrari, a mother of three worked at the Ice Lounge as a bartender.
Polanco was giving her a ride home to Lefrak City, where they both lived. He also worked part-time at the Ice Lounge as a porter.
Along for the ride was friend Vanessa Rodriguez, 29, an off-duty NYPD officer who Polanco was also driving home. Rodriguez reportedly slept in the backseat for much of the ride.
National Guardsman Noel Polanco, who was unarmed, was shot and killed by a NYPD detective during a traffic stop in Queens.
According to NYPD sources, the trouble began when Polanco was alleged to have been spotted driving erratically by ESU officers near the 94th Street overpass at 5:15 a.m.
Sources say Polanco had cut between a pair of unmarked ESU trucks in the center lane, then darted to the left lane before shifting back between the NYPD vehicles.
This prompted the ESU officers in the vehicles to turn on their emergency lights and attempt to pull Polanco over. When Polanco did not pull over, the two ESU vehicles pursued him.
In statements to the New York Daily News, DeFerrari, insisted that herself and Polanco were not aware that the two trucks were police vehicles and that they were only trying to maneuver around slow-driving motorists.
DeFerrari also said that the officers pursuing them were shouting obscenities and pointing their middle finger at them. She says the officers even tried to run them off the road.
In describing the pursuit to the NY Daily News, DeFerrari said, "I told Noel to stop the car, but we caught a clearing and took off.”
According to DeFerrari the ESU trucks used their lights but no sirens.
In a statement to the New York Post, NYPD spokesman Paul Browne says that the ESU vehicles used both their lights and sirens and even shouted "pull over" on their loud speaker in a bid to get pull Polanco to pull his Honda over.
However, in a separate account of the incident to the NY Daily News, police commissioner Ray Kelly is quoted as saying, "The car was weaving in and out, going between the vehicles. They turned on their lights and tried to pull him over. He didn’t pull over.”
Unlike police spokesman Browne's account, Kelly makes no mention of the ESU officers using their sirens or loud speakers in a bid to get the vehicle to pull over.
DeFerrari insisted to the NY Daily News that she was sober for the duration of the entire incident because she had two prior arrests for DWI on her record.
She also admits to having served both Polanco and Rodriguez cognac before they all left the lounge shortly before 5 a.m.
The brief pursuit came to an end when the ESU officers positioned their two vehicles - a large van and a truck - in front and back of Polanco's car and forced it to pull over.
The moment Polanco's Honda came to a stop, the ESU officers charged out of their two vehicles and towards the car, surrounding it while pointing handguns and assault rifles at it's occupants.
According to DeFerrari, Polanco was shot almost immediately after the officers ordered everyone to "put their hands up."
The fatal shot that claimed Polanco's life was fired by Detective Hamdy. The Detective had approached the car from the passenger's side and discharged a single round, striking Polanco in the abdomen, police sources said.
Polanco died shortly before 6 a.m. at New York Hospital Queens.
DeFerrari insists that Polanco's hands were on the steering wheel and in sight of the officers the entire time.
A search of the Honda by police uncovered no weapon. A yellow and black power drill was on the driver’s-side floor.
The single gunshot fired by Hamdy awoke Rodriguez who had been sleeping in the back seat the entire time.
The NYPD reports that Rodriguez is a police officer with a checkered past.
The officer has been on modified duty with the NYPD since June after she was arrested while off-duty for shoplifting a sweater from an H&M department store in Queens. Though still a police officer, the NYPD took very severe disciplinary action against Rodriguez that involved her being stripped of her badge and gun over the summer.
The New York Times reports that the heavily armed ESU officers had just served a warrant in the Bronx and were in route to a location in Brooklyn to serve another warrant.
A spokeswoman for the Queens District Attorney's Office told the New York Post that "the matter was under investigation."
The NYPD's Internal Affairs Bureau has also launched an investigation into the incident.
According to the NY Times, police sources say Detective Hamdy joined the NYPD in 1998 and had worked his way up to ESU. He had never fired his gun in the line of duty before.
A separate report in the Huffington Post reveals that Detective Hamdy was named in a 2007 lawsuit in which he and six other officers were alleged to have roughed up a Queens man and his grandmother. The city settled the case for $235,000.
However, Huffington Post also reports that in 2008 Hamdy and another officer were credited with convincing a Queens man who had attacked another man with a machete and hauled Molotov cocktails at police to surrender peacefully.
In comments to the Daily News outside their Long Island home, Hamdy's wife, Christine, expressed faith in her husband. She said of her husband, "He's good at what he does."
Detective Hamdy is on modified duty while the NYPD investigates the shooting.
Polanco's mother, Cecilia Reyes, 46, said her son had never been arrested and had actually wanted to become a NYPD officer after he was finished with his military service.
The grieving mother is demanding answers from the NYPD in the wake of her son's death who was going to be 23 next month.
DeFerrari and the victim's family has called the shooting a case of "police road rage."
What is the Apprehension Tactical Team
The Apprehension Tactical Team or the "A-Team" as it is known in the NYPD is a special function of ESU much like the Hercules initiative. However, whereas the ESU officers in Hercules are tasked with providing an anti-terrorism deterrent through a highly visible, heavily armed presence at the city's most high-profile and sensitive locations, the A-Team is tasked with hunting down and capturing the city's most dangerous criminals.
Unlike the regular ESU squads which focus on everything from subduing Emotionally Disturbed Persons (otherwise known as EDPs in ESU parlance), to capturing wild animals, hostage-barricade situations, water rescues, car accidents, plane crashes, train wrecks, and search and rescue operations; the A-Team's only focus is to serve arrest warrants.
NYPD ESU officers during a tactical deployment.
The officers in the A-Team have a full-time focus on the SWAT aspect of ESU's duties.
The A-Team may occasionally be assigned counter-terrorism duties but it's primary focus is serving arrest warrants on conventional but otherwise very dangerous criminals.
Tactical counter-terrorism duties are usually the province of ESU officers in the Hercules initiative and the regular ESU squads.
While the NYPD has a Fugitive Apprehension Team (FAT) that is separate from ESU and pursues fugitives that are potentially dangerous, the fugitives that the A-Team goes up against are typically wanted for violent criminal offenses, believed to be armed and likely to fight rather than go to jail or prison. The A-Team is considered to be the most hardcore of ESU's varied duties and functions.
The A-Team is usually comprised of approximately 10 to 12 officers with at least one officer being selected from each one of the ten ESU squads (sometimes referred to as "Trucks") situated throughout the five boroughs that comprise New York City. One of the officers is a sergeant who leads the team.
Members of the NYPD Emergency Service Unit's (ESU) Apprehension Tactical Team conducting training. The Apprehension Tactical Team is a function of ESU that focuses exclusively on apprehending the city's most dangerous wanted criminals.
Screengrab - NYPD ESU: A-Team (The Daily)
The ESU officers selected for the A-Team are chosen at random by ranking ESU leadership.
Once selected, ESU officers serve on the team for several months before being returned to their regular ESU squads. The A-Team is never a permanent duty for ESU officers.
Each one of the 500 officers of the Emergency Service Unit has served (or eventually will serve) on the A-Team at least once. Some may have served on the A-Team on as many as three or four separate occasions.