Cop Who Shot Unarmed Queens Man Has History of Heroism and Controversy

By Murray Weiss and Paul DeBenedetto  on October 5, 2012 6:11pm

QUEENS — The detective who shot and killed an unarmed motorist on the Grand Central Parkway early Thursday morning was named in two lawsuits alleging civil rights violations and police brutality, according to court documents.

But Hassan Hamdy, a nine-year veteran, was also a former Marine who served in Japan and Norway from 1992 to 1996, when he was honorably discharged and earned commendations for heroics in the NYPD, sources said.

Hamdy was placed on modified duty after shooting Noel Polanco, 22, a National Guardsman with dreams of becoming a police officer, during a traffic stop on the Grand Central Parkway, police said.

“He always wanted to become a cop and to find out that his life was taken by a police officer… They have to know how to do their job," Polanco's mother, Cecilia Reyes, 46, said on Friday.

Police say Polanco, who lived with his mother in LeFrak City, was driving erratically on the Grand Central Parkway at 5:15 a.m. Thursday. Cops from the NYPD's elite Emergency Services Unit, including Hamdy, returning from serving a warrant in the Bronx, pulled him over.

Officers approached the vehicle, and Hamdy fired one shot through the passenger-side window into Polanco's abdomen. 

Police originally said that Polanco reached under his seat, but later said details were unclear. The passenger in the car, a bartender at Ice Lounge in Astoria, said that Polanco's hands were on the steering wheel when he was shot.

Hamdy has been named in lawsuits in the past.

In 2001, the city settled a civil rights violation lawsuit that named Hamdy and 14 other officers, according to court documents.

The plaintiff in that case — the details of which were not immediately available — was awarded $291,000, according to the settlement.

And a 2007 lawsuit alleged that Hamdy and six other officers broke down the door of a Queens man and his grandmother.

The cops chased the man out the back door of the apartment and into the street where they caught him, roughed him up and let a police dog bite him, according to the complaint. The complaint also says the officers refused to take the man to the hospital.

The suits were settled, and the man and his grandmother received $210,000 and $250,000 respectively.

Hamdy has never fired his weapon before, according to sources, and is a member of ESU's elite Apprehension Team (A Team), which tracks down wanted criminals and sometimes tangles with violent suspects.

A law enforcement official said the unit serves as the entry team for 500 "high-risk" warrants around the city a year and has not been involved in any shootings in recent memory.

“They are the experts in dicey situations,” another source said. “And one shot is reflective of that."

Law enforcement sources described Hamdy as a "standup individual" who was "very quiet" and "not a hot dog or showboat kind of guy."

In April of 2008, Hamdy and other officers engaged in a 90-minute standoff with Felipe Velasquez, who started attacked a man with a machete and tossed Molotov cocktails at police from his roof, according to the Daily News.

Hamdy and NYPD Detective Robert Zajac personally negotiated with Velasquez for 30 minutes before the man climbed down from his roof and surrendered, according to the report.

And in May of this year, Hamdy and a group of officers trying to execute a search warrant in a Rockaway housing project ended up becoming rescuers to a housing fire, according to a Times report.

Hamdy and a group of officers were executing the warrant when they spotted a young man hanging out a sixth-floor window across the street, waving his arms and screaming for help as smoke billowed out past him, according to the Times.

The group ran across the street, where Hamdy and another detective were able to force the door open with a hydraulic drill, the Times said. The men, operating blind through the thick smoke, saved five people trapped in the apartment, the paper said.

And Hamdy performed a water rescue in Queens last year and was awarded a commendation.

Thursday's shooting is currently being investigated by Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown's office and the NYPD's internal affairs division, Brown said.

"The public can be assured that the investigation will be full, fair and complete," Brown said in a statement.

According to a source, ESU cops generally do not deal with car stops, but the sergeant in Hamdy's unit thought that Polanco was driving so erratically that he was a danger to other motorists on the road.

“ESU generally doesn’t do something like this at five o'clock in the morning, but he was driving like an idiot,” a source said.

Still the fact that a gun was not recovered may not bode well for Hamdy.

“It doesn’t look like a good shooting when police do not recover a weapon and there is an encounter like this,” a law enforcement official said.

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