NYPD medals

TRUE METTLE: At the NYPD’s Medal Day on June 4, Mayor de Blasio congratulates Lieut. Jason Diaz after presenting him with the Medal for Valor for actions he and his partner, then-Police Officer Jose Barbosa, to his right, took to chase down and apprehend an armed suspect on June 13, 2015 in the northeastern Bronx. To Lieutenant Diaz’s left, Dets. Albert Garcia, far right, and Yilson Melendez were awarded the Police Combat Cross for the same incident, Detective Garcia for returning fire after being shot at, and Detective Melendez for also returning fire. 

Responding to a 911 call of a robbery in progress on the afternoon of Nov. 4, 2016, officers from the 43rd Precinct arrived at a Beach Ave. home near the Cross Bronx Expressway to find that a woman there had just been involved in a violent dispute with her estranged husband over custody of their 3-year-old son.

The man had fled the scene. Sgts. Paul Tuozzolo and Emmanuel Kwo, Police Officer Arvid Flores and Probationary Police Officer Elwin Martinez found the man’s red Jeep a few blocks away, with him at the wheel.

Earned Highest Award

The man, later identified as a career criminal with more than a dozen arrests and several prison stints, attempted a getaway but was boxed in by the police cruisers. As the officers moved in to arrest the man, service weapons drawn, he opened fire, striking both Sergeants.

The 25-year-old man was killed in an ensuing firefight.

The Sergeants were taken to a nearby hospital, but Mr. Tuozzolo, who was shot in the head at near point-blank range, died of his injuries. At 41, he was just months from retirement. Sergeant Kwo, who suffered a leg wound, would recuperate and return to duty.

On a June day in 2017, Sergeant Tuozzolo was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor at the NYPD’s annual Medal Day.

On June 4, at this year’s ceremony, his three colleagues during that firefight, all of them promoted since that fateful confrontation, were also conferred the Medal of Honor, the NYPD’s highest award. Recipients of the eight-point, star-shaped decoration, fastened to a green ribbon, are selected for “extraordinary bravery and intelligently performed in the line of duty at imminent and personal danger to life.”

88 Honored

The three were among 88 officers honored at the NYPD’s annual Medal Day on a cool morning in the shadow of 1 Police Plaza’s Brutalist headquarters. They included  47 officers posthumously awarded the department’s Distinguished Service Medal, all of them members of the service who died as a result of illness contracted during the rescue-and-recovery efforts following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Fifteen NYPD Commands received Unit Citations.

With family, friends and colleagues seated in blue and white folding chairs arrayed on the brick court in front of the headquarters, and Mayor de Blasio, Commissioner James P. O’Neill, and other police brass and union officials seated on the dais, the officers to be honored were accompanied to their chairs by the Police Band’s renditions of “Stand by Me" and New York, New York."

“In a world where people are searching constantly for heroes and go to movie theaters looking for them, or sports events, I think if you want to find the truest heroes, they are right here in front of us today and we honor you and we thank you,” the Mayor said.

Commissioner O’Neill called the occasion “one of the most significant days of the year” for the department.

‘A Solemn Responsibility’

Addressing the officers seated in front of the dais, he said that being an NYPD officers enlists one in “a solemn responsibility” of protecting residents and one another.

“You are what New York policing is all about and you are an example to what all cops do every day across our great nation,” Commissioner O’Neill said. “You go towards the danger and you never know what you’re going to find when you get there. In an instant, what had been a normal day can become that day. So you find yourself wondering, when that day comes, when that call comes over the radio, ‘How will I respond?’”

Although some cops never face the question, he continued, those who do, like the day’s medal recipients, answer it “with confidence and courage.”

“When that day came, they rose to the equation with heroism and resolve. But they didn’t do it for the thanks, for praise and they certainly didn’t do it for a medal,” he said. “They did it because of who they are, and they’re NYPD cops.”

Twenty-three officers received the Combat Cross, the department’s second-highest award, given to members of the service “who have successfully and intelligently performed an act of extraordinary heroism while engaged in combat with an adversary.”

Shining Examples

Those attributes were exemplified by Police Officers Steven Pedullo and Magdalena Witkowski on the morning of July 17, 2016. The two officers, assigned to the 94th Precinct, in northernmost Brooklyn, were on patrol when they were alerted to a pair of armed robberies by the same man, who was described as emotionally disturbed. When they located the suspect, he turned and fired on them, yelling “Kill me!” Officers Pedullo and Witkowski returned fire, striking the man, who fell to the ground, but still hung on to his Glock pistol. He refused to drop the weapon and then reached to his waistband for what seemed like yet another weapon. Officer Pedullo fired two more shots. The man would die a short time later.

Two Detectives assigned to the department’s Bomb Squad were awarded the Medal for Valor for their work following the Sept. 17, 2016, bomb blast on West 23rd St. Dets. Timothy Brady and Jason Hallik, along with colleagues, investigating reports of a second device, were led to West 27th St. to a pressure cooker with a cellphone attached. Detective Hallik, operating a robot, isolated the contraption in a containment vessel.

Next-Day Deactivation

The next day, the two Detectives, outfitted in protective gear, set to work deactivating the device, a potentially lethal process. Their success also ensured that key forensic evidence was preserved. The perpetrator was ultimately convicted on numerous counts and will live out his days in prison.

Among the 15 NYPD Commands receiving Unit Citations for “outstanding performance in providing a high level of service” to the city and its people, was the 102nd Precinct, including its Detective Squad. The Richmond Hill, Queens, Precinct was credited with bringing down major crimes by more than 14 percent in 2018 and with combating gun-related violence in the neighborhood by seizing 57 firearms. The precinct’s Detective Squad averaged 203 investigations and nearly 46 arrests per investigator. Working in conjunction with the Domestic Violence Unit, it also increased arrests of suspected perpetrators of domestic violence by nearly 80 percent.

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