A Honda was pulled over on the Grand Central Parkway early on Thursday because, the police said, it had cut off their vehicles.
The shooting, which occurred at 5:15 a.m., was the latest in a series of episodes in which police officers fatally shot or wounded civilians. While the Police Department had explanations in the other instances, it could not immediately provide one for the shooting on Thursday.
The detective, Hassan Hamdy, 39, a 14-year veteran assigned to the Emergency Service Unit, fired one bullet through an open window of the car, which his squad had just pulled over with the help of a second police vehicle. The bullet struck the driver, Noel Polanco, 22, in the abdomen. He was declared dead less than an hour later at New York Hospital Queens.
Paul J. Browne, the department’s chief spokesman, initially said there were reports of movement inside the car, although he did not elaborate. Mr. Browne said a small power drill was found on the floor on the driver’s side, but he later appeared to play down the importance of that information.
“We looked for a weapon, we didn’t find any; we found a drill,” he said in a news briefing at Police Headquarters. “I’m not saying it played a role. I’m just saying we looked for a weapon. We did not find a weapon. The only thing we found was that drill.”
A passenger in Mr. Polanco’s car, Diane Deferrari, said in a phone interview Thursday night that just before pulling the car over, officers appeared irate that Mr. Polanco had cut them off. She said that one of the officers — but not Detective Hamdy — stuck up his middle finger and was screaming obscenities from one of the moving police trucks.
“As soon as we stopped — they were rushing the car,” Ms. Deferrari said. “It was like an army.”
She said a group of officers swarmed the car, yelling for the three people in Mr. Polanco’s car to put their hands up. Mr. Polanco, whose hands were still on the steering wheel, had no time to comply, Ms. Deferrari said. At that instant, a shot rang out, and Mr. Polanco gasped for air, she said.
“I felt the powder in my face,” she said.
Officers then dragged Mr. Polanco from the car and onto the highway, where traffic was snarled, as early-morning commuters slowed to look, she said.
“This is all a case of road rage on behalf of the N.Y.P.D. — that’s all this is,” she said.
Mr. Browne said late Thursday that Ms. Deferrari’s assertions would “be investigated in the ongoing review of the shooting by the district attorney and Internal Affairs.”
The shooting followed a string of fatal police encounters. In August, the police shot and killed a 51-year-old man armed with a long kitchen knife in Times Square; the police said the man had lunged at them.
Also in August, two officers fatally shot an armed gunman who had just killed a former co-worker outside the Empire State Building. In that shooting, nine bystanders were injured by bullets or ricochet fragments.
Last month, an officer inadvertently shot and killed a Bronx bodega employee: he was fleeing armed robbers and collided with the officer, whose gun accidentally discharged. And last week, officers with the Emergency Service Unit killed a Harlem man in the doorway of his apartment; the police said they had unsuccessfully tried to subdue him and he had lunged at them with a knife.
Police union officials were perplexed by the shooting on the parkway.
“I see a spike in police shootings; I do,” said Edward Mullins, president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association. “For the most part, they are all coming back as justified. This is the first one that’s up for question.”
Mr. Mullins said the reason for the shooting was unclear. He said the shooting, like any other, would be thoroughly investigated by the Police Department and the Queens district attorney.
“It’s tragic and unfortunate,” he said. “Things like this happen. It’s sad. It’s not supposed to happen.”
“I’ve never met a police officer who went to work to deliberately be involved in this type of incident,” he added. “My understanding of this officer is that he is highly thought of in the department.”
The episode began early Thursday at the Ice NYC in Astoria, Queens, where Mr. Polanco, who worked at a local Honda dealership, also worked part time, in the hookah part of the bar, where he filled and served tobacco waterpipes. He was also a member of the New York Army National Guard.
Mr. Polanco, who lived with his mother, arrived at the club around 3 a.m., the club’s manager, Moez Abouelnaga, said. “He came to pick up the bartender,” he said, referring to Ms. Deferrari; they lived in the same apartment building. “Anytime you need something, he would never say no.”
Brian Benstock, the general manager at Paragon Honda on Northern Boulevard, where Mr. Polanco worked, said: “He was a hard-working guy, an active-duty military guy — disciplined and polite. He did what he was supposed to do.”
Mr. Browne, the police spokesman, said the bartender, Ms. Deferrari, who wrapped up work sometime after 4 a.m., had served a Hennessy Cognac to Mr. Polanco and her friend, an off-duty police officer, Vanessa Rodriguez, also at the bar. Officer Rodriguez was on restricted duty because she was arrested in June and accused of shoplifting.
Nelson De La Rosa, a party planner at the club, said Mr. Polanco was not drunk. “He had a beer and a hookah,” he said. “I was sitting next to him since he got there.”
After leaving the club around 5 a.m., the police said, Mr. Polanco, Ms. Deferrari and Officer Rodriguez got into his car and he drove onto the parkway.
Less than 15 minutes later, the police said, the black Honda that Mr. Polanco was driving crossed from the right lane into the middle lane and squeezed between the two police trucks, which were from the Emergency Service Unit. The officers in the trucks had just executed a search warrant in the Bronx and were on their way to Brooklyn to execute another warrant, the police said.
The Honda, which the police said was speeding, then shifted to the left lane and began to tailgate a car, the police said. Mr. Polanco then swung back between the two police vehicles, and the officers in them turned on their sirens, Mr. Browne said.
The police trucks sandwiched the car, forcing it to slow down and stop, the police said.
Just before Mr. Polanco stopped the car, Ms. Deferrari was arguing with him, urging him to slow down, Mr. Browne said.
“She was frightened by his driving,” Mr. Browne said.
At the stop, along a median of the busy parkway, two officers approached the car, a sergeant at the driver’s side and the detective at the passenger side, where the window was open, the police said. Ms. Deferrari, who was seated there, later told the police that she had heard the officers tell those inside the car to show their hands.
Officer Rodriguez was asleep in the back seat when the gun went off, the police said. The blast woke her, and she identified herself as an officer, the police said.
Mr. Browne said Ms. Deferrari told investigators that when the officers ordered her to put her hands up, she complied, but Mr. Polanco, when last she looked, had his hands on the steering wheel.
“What she said was that she complied with the officer’s directions to raise their hands,” Mr. Browne said. “She said the last time she looked at the driver, his hands were still on the wheel.”
At that point, Detective Hamdy fired a single shot through the open passenger window, striking Mr. Polanco. Mr. Browne said he did not know exactly where the sergeant, approaching the driver’s side, was standing when the shot was fired. Mr. Browne said that what prompted the shooting was unknown, as investigators had not yet interviewed Detective Hamdy.
In all police-involved shootings, investigators are barred from talking to the officers who fired their weapon to prevent them from later claiming immunity from prosecution for what they said in an interview. Investigators can, however, interview officers who were at the scene but not directly involved in the shooting.
Detective Hamdy, who joined the force in 1998, had never fired his gun on duty before, the police said. He had worked his way up to the elite Emergency Service Unit, where he had been recently assigned to a team of highly trained officers who specialize in apprehending violent felony suspects.
Late Thursday night, friends and co-workers of Mr. Polanco gathered outside Ice NYC, where people signed photos of Mr. Polanco that were taped to a lamppost. Friends brought flowers, and a cardboard box filled with candles rested outside, along with a hookah that some took turns puffing from.
For a Mother, Grief and Anger After the Police Fatally Shoot Her Son
via NY Times:
Standing on a sidewalk in Queens, Cecilia Reyes, struggled to get the words out. She pressed the palm of her hand to her mouth in an attempt to mute her sobs. She used her other hand to wipe her tears.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I just lost my son.”
For the relatives and friends who encircled her at 1:30 a.m. on Friday – less than 24 hours after a police detective shot and killed her son, Noel Polanco, during a traffic stop on the Grand Central Parkway in Queens – her grief needed no explanation.
They had gathered outside the lounge in Astoria, Queens, where Mr. Polanco, 22, had worked to offer their support. They lighted candles and placed bouquets of flowers at the base of a traffic light on the corner of 33rd Street and Broadway. Photocopied images of Mr. Polanco were taped to a metal pole. The crowd parted and cleared a path for Ms. Reyes. Someone handed her a black marker, which she held aloft and pressed against a photo of her son dressed in Army fatigues. “Mom loves you,” she wrote, adding balloon-like hearts as bookends on either side of those three words.
On Thursday at about 5:15 a.m., the police said, Mr. Polanco was driving erratically on the Grand Central, switching lanes while speeding, and twice cutting off two police trucks carrying several officers with the Emergency Service Unit. The officers, members of the unit’s apprehension team, had just executed a warrant in the Bronx and were headed to Brooklyn to execute another warrant, and were traveling eastbound on the parkway near La Guardia Airport, the police said.
Mr. Polanco had just left Ice NYC, where he worked part time in the hookah lounge, filling and serving tobacco water pipes. Though he was not working, he had gone to the club to pick up a bartender, Diane Deferrari, and Ms. Deferrari’s friend, Vanessa Rodriguez, an off-duty police officer. Mr. Polanco offered to drive the two women home in his Honda. All three lived near one another in an apartment complex in Corona.
The two police trucks forced Mr. Polanco to stop after one truck went in front of the Honda while the second truck maneuvered behind. After the car stopped, along a median of the busy highway, two officers approached the car, a sergeant at the driver’s side and the detective at the passenger’s side where the windows were open, the police said.
Ms. Deferrari later told the police that she had heard the officers order those inside the car to show their hands. In an interview, she said that Mr. Polanco had no time to comply and that, in that instant, the detective, Hassan Hamdy, 39, fired the shot. Ms. Deferrari said she believed the shooting was the result of a case of police road rage.
No weapons were found inside Mr. Polanco’s car, the police said.
Mr. Polanco’s mother said she did not learn that her son was dead until about 2 p.m. on Thursday. She was at her job as a clerical assistant at Elmhurst Hospital Center when the police told her, she said.
On Friday morning, Ms. Reyes said no one from the Police Department had reached out to her to explain what happened or to express condolences. Her emotions cast a wide pendulum, swinging from anger to anguish.
“They are going to pay for this,” she said. “This is not going to stay like this. They are going to get justice.”
Mr. Polanco’s younger sister, Amanda, 15, who accompanied her mother to the lounge early Friday, said she had faith that the justice system would work.
The shooting is under investigation by the Police Department and the Queens district attorney’s office, which is routine practice for all police-involved shootings.
Ms. Reyes, 46, said that her son would never harm anyone and that she was certain he posed no threat to the officers. Mr. Polanco was a member of the Army National Guard and was assigned to a company headquartered in Kingston, N.Y.
“They are trying to make him look like he was a bad person, but that’s not going to happen,” she said. “I’m going to make sure that his name does not get taken down in the mud.”
She added: “This is my son. This is my life. I don’t know how they could have not thought about that.”
The shooting was the latest in a series of encounters in which police officers have shot or wounded civilians. The killing of Mr. Polanco was different because, so far, the police have not been able to provide an explanation about what prompted Detective Hamdy to fire his gun.
“We want the truth. We want the honest truth,” said Joseph Thomas, 26, one of Mr. Polanco’s friends who joined the crowd outside the lounge in Astoria.
“No one feels safe,” Mr. Thomas added. “This isn’t the first time in which an innocent young man was gunned down. How are they protecting us when they are gunning us down? They are out here shooting us.”
One woman, Claudia Gonzalez, 46, said Mr. Polanco had worked for her providing security at a dance hall she operated in Corona. But he left his job with her, she said, because he thought it was too dangerous and he did not like to break up fights.
“I know a list of kids that I could say, ‘O.K., he had it coming; he didn’t listen.’ Not Noel,” she said. “Innocent blood was truly shed here.”