The death of an unarmed driver on the Grand Central Parkway continues to raise questions—about what could have prompted a veteran ESU detective to fire and about the detective himself. As both NYPD Internal Affairs and the Queens DA's office investiate the fatal shooting of Noel Polanco, a 22-year-old National Guard reservist, it's now been revealed that the detective has been previously sued for police abuse.
Detective Hassan Hamdy, 39, was named in two federal civil rights lawsuits filed against police officers that the city eventually settled. The NY Times reported they were in 2001—$235,000—and 2008—$291,000. Hamdy was one of many officers in both cases: "One lawsuit accused the officers of breaking down the door of a man’s home without a warrant and assaulting him; another charged that officers repeatedly harassed a business owner. 'In the 2008 case, his role was minor at best,' a Law Department spokeswoman said Friday night. She said it was unclear what role Detective Hamdy had played in the earlier case. She said the city’s position was that 'a settlement in a police case does not indicate wrongdoing on the part of the officer.'"
However, the plaintiffs in the 2008 case, Dorothy Garcia and her grandson Tyrell, spoke to WCBS 2. The pair say cops kicked, punched, and hit Tyrell Garcia with their guns during an arrest, as well as "dragged his body across a chain link fence." Dorothy Garcia said, "I know that they were very aggressive." Their attorney Fred Lichtmacher said, "Why wouldn’t an officer involved in a case earlier be involved in another incident? The NYPD doesn’t do anything. They don’t discipline their officers for most things they do."
However, Hamdy has also been portrayed as a dedicated, at times heroic officer. Earlier this year, he helped rescued people from a burning building while executing a search warrant nearby.
The shooting occurred on Thursday morning: Polanco had apparently cut off an ESU vehicle on the Grand Central Parkway near LaGuardia Airport. Police say that he was driving erratically, so they pulled him over, while Polanco's passenger Diane DeFerrari says that while Polanco did cut off the police, then the ESU vehicles were trying to run him off the road. During the traffic stop, Hamdy, standing on the front passenger side next to DeFerrari, fired at Polanco once.
DeFerrari says Polanco's hands were on the wheel, but Michael Palladino, president of the Detectives’ Endowment Association, told the Times thought sounded unlikely, "No police officer would shoot a person who has both hands on the steering wheel. We have gone done this road before so I ask the public to withhold their judgment until the investigation is complete."
Still, Polanco's mother Cecilia Reyes said, "How are you just going to shoot a person without asking for a license or a registration? No — this is not staying like this. I want justice for my son." Police Commissioner Ray Kelly visited Reyes and the family to offer his condolences. Polanco had joined the National Guard and worked at a Honda dealership as well as at a nightclub in Astoria where DeFerrari works as a bartender (since they were neighbors, he had picked up DeFerrari and another friend from the club that morning).
Reyes added that her son wanted to join the NYPD, "All he wanted to do was go to the military, continue his career in the military, and then continue his career as an officer. That was his dream."