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Thursday, October 11, 2012

NYC Detective Hassan Hamdy's Road Rage

     Noel Polanco, a 22-year-old member of the New York Army National Guard, lived with his mother and worked at a nearby Honda dealership in the Astoria section of Queens. At 5:15 in the morning of Thursday, October 4, 2012, Polanco and two passengers were in his black Honda traveling on the Grand Central Parkway in Queens. Diane Deferrari, a bartender at the Ice NYC Bar, an Astoria lounge where Planco worked part time, was riding in the front passenger's seat. Seated in the back was Venessa Rodriguez, Planco's friend and off-duty police officer. (Officer Rodriguez was on restricted duty following a June shoplifting arrest.) The trio were coming from the Ice NYC Bar en route to the building where Deferrari and Polanco had apartments. While at the lounge, Polanco had consumed a beer, and had smoked a hookah (flavored tobacco filtered through a multi-stemmed water pipe).

     When Polanco encountered heavy, early morning traffic on the parkway, he began driving erratically. He crossed into the middle lane from the right, and in so doing, squeezed between two New York City Police Emergency Service Unit (ESU) trucks. (ESU is an elite SWAT-like paramilitary squad within the NYPD.) Polanco suddenly swerved into to the left lane and tailgated the car in front of him. After traveling a short distance, Polanco cut back in between the two police vehicles.

     One of the ESU officers, infuriated by Polanco's reckless driving, gave him the finger and shouted obscenities. The police turned on their sirens, ordering the wild driver to pull over. (The ESU officers had just raided and searched a drug site in the South Bronx, and were on their way to Brooklyn to break into another place.)

     Noel Polanco, in heavy traffic, brought his Honda to a stop alongside the parkway median. Two ESU officers approached the car. Detective Hassan Hamdy walked up to the passenger's side with his gun drawn. When Diane Defarrari lowered her window, Hamdy ordered the car's occupants to show their hands. Polanco complied with the order by placing his hands on the steering wheel. What happened next defies logic: Detective Hamdy, through the passenger's window, shot the unarmed driver in the abdomen.

     The ESU officer on the Polanco's side of the Honda pulled the severely wounded man out of the car and onto the parkway. Paramedics rushed Polanco to New York Hospital  Queens where an hour after he arrived, Polanco died.

     The fatal shooting of an unarmed man following a traffic stop on the Grand Central Parkway by an ESU officer comprised a major news story. While New York Police officers in recent years have shot very few people, over the past few months there has been a dramatic spike in the department's rate of police involved shootings. The killing of Noel Polanco by Detective Hamdy brought media scrutiny upon this officer which has revealed the following:

     In 1998, after four years in the Marine Corps as a sergeant in an artillery division, Hassan Hamdy joined the NYPD. The resident of Centereach, Long Island was not only assigned to ESU, he became a member of the Tactical Apprehension Team (TAT), a paramilitary unit that conducts predawn, no-knock SWAT-style drug raids. In 2001 and 2008, Hamdy was among several defendants in a pair of federal civil rights lawsuits against the city that the municipality had to settle for a total of $516,000. However, in May 2012, when TAT officers were in a neighborhood to conduct a drug raid, Hamdy and his fellow officers helped rescue five people from a burning apartment. Up until he killed Noel Polanco, Detective Hamdy had not fired his weapon in the line of duty.

     It seems unlikely that NYPD internal affairs investigators will find this fatal shooting administratively justified. On October 10, 2012, NYC Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly announced that a local grand jury will determine what happened in the Polanco shooting. In the meantime, the dead man's mother and her attorney will meet with Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. Detective Hamdy's lawyer has said that Polanco didn't comply with his client's orders to raise his hands. Diane Defarrari, the front-seat passenger, has disputed this claim.



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