QUEENS — The NYPD detective who gunned down an unarmed National Guardsman during a car stop choked up before a Queens grand jury as he expressed his condolences to his victim’s family, DNAInfo.com New York has learned.
“The last thing I ever wanted to do was take a life,” Detective Hassan Hamdy told the grand jury last Thursday at Queens Supreme Court, where he provided a detailed account of the events that ended with the death of Noel Polanco, 22.
Polanco was shot on Oct. 4 after he was pulled over by two NYPD Emergency Services vehicles for driving wildly in and out of traffic on the Grand Central Parkway after a night out with friends in a Queens nightclub. An autopsy found he had been drinking.
Hamdy, a 14-year veteran and ex-Marine, appeared before the 23-member panel that will decide if he was justified in firing the single shot or if he should face trial on a manslaughter charge.
For nearly three hours, prosecutors quizzed Hamdy in detail about his actions, emotions and thoughts on that fateful night. The inquisition began around 2 p.m. with Hamdy being asked to briefly outline his life and career, according to law enforcement sources and people close to the detective.
Hamdy quickly ran through his background — from rookie cop to becoming a detective in the elite ESU; numerous medals and citations for bravery and his stint in the Marines. He is married with two children with a third on the way, sources said.
Then prosecutors zeroed in on the day’s events, and for the next three hours Hamdy calmly recalled the details before being overcome with emotion at the end.
On that fateful night, Hamdy reported for duty with other members of the “A-Team,” an elite squad of experienced ESU officers who specialize in being the first to go through doors to execute search warrants and assist on dangerous raids.
Their initial assignment that night was to execute a search warrant on a suspected Bronx drug den. They broke down the door, rushed in, rounded up suspects and the mission ended without incident.
An hour later, they headed off to execute another search warrant in Brooklyn. Driving east on the GCP in two vehicles — an NYPD van followed by the larger NYPD ESU truck — a Honda FIT suddenly came whizzing by, nearly clipping the front of the blue van in which the A-Team was riding, Hamdy said, according to sources.
At first they did not respond, but when they saw the Honda weaving erratically through traffic, nearly hitting other vehicles, an ESU supervisor decided they had to stop him.
“While other motorists could just watch, the cops did what they had to do — they acted,” one source said.
With their lights and sirens on, the cops sped up to the Honda. But rather than stopping, Polanco, who was driving, tried to outrun the cops by weaving in and out of traffic even more, Hamdy testified.
Finally, the NYPD van forced the Honda to stop along the median. The larger ESU truck pulled behind and boxed the car in.
Hamdy, who was seated behind the passenger seat, opened his side door. He had no idea what he might face, he said. Given the Honda’s wild flight, he said he had every reason to believe that this might not be an ordinary car stop.
He said he saw the female passenger, later identified as Diane DeFerrari, 22, in the front seat. Asleep in the backseat was another woman, off-duty NYPD cop Vanessa Rodriguez. She was on modified assignment for a shoplifting arrest.
But Hamdy said he didn't see Rodriguez and concentrated on the couple in the front.
In full uniform, Hamdy approached the right side of Honda with his 9 mm in his right hand.
”Police! Show me your hands!” he said he yelled.
Hamdy said DeFerrari was looking straight at him and she immediately raised her hands. As soon as DeFerrari’s hands reached toward the ceiling, Hamdy quickly focused on Polanco.
The detective could not see Polanco’s hands through the open side window.
“Show me your f---ing hands,” the detective now demanded of Polanco.
The prosecutor then interrupted Hamdy, sources said.
“Were you angry at this point?” the prosecutor wanted to know, suggesting that emotion played a role in the shooting.
“No, sir,” Hamdy replied, explaining that his intention was to make sure Polanco knew he was serious.
Polanco not only failed to show his hands, but he suddenly thrust them both towards the floor, Hamdy said. The detective believed Polanco was reaching for a gun.
Hamdy fired a single shot to stop what he believed was a deadly threat. He said it was the first time he had ever fired his weapon in the line of duty.
Uncertain if the danger was over, the detective moved toward the rear of the car as the rest of his team moved in.
They opened the car doors and took everyone out. The detectives — all trained Emergency Medical Technicians — administered aide to Polanco and called for an ambulance. Cops later found a carpenter’s screw gun on the driver’s floor.
Hamdy, like all grand jury witnesses, was asked if there was anything else he wanted to say before ending his testimony.
He said he knew Polanco had a family. He choked up as he extended his sympathies to them and insisted he never intended to take a life.
The deadly shooting touched off protests about NYPD tactics. Polanco was promoted to sergeant in the National Guard at his funeral. His family said he had been interested in becoming a cop.
The grand jury is expected to decide Hamdy’s fate this week, sources said.