Detective Hassan Hamdy made the split-second decision to fire a single fatal shot at an unarmed motorist during an early morning traffic stop on a highway in Queens because he thought the driver was reaching for a gun, according to the detective’s lawyer.
The driver, Noel Polanco, 22, did not comply with Detective Hamdy’s orders to put his hands up, instead reaching “down in a quick motion, down on the floor of the car,” said lawyer Philip Karasyk, representing the detective.
Detective Hamdy twice yelled “Police!” and was wearing a heavy vest with the word “police” written across it, Mr. Karasyk said. “At that point my guy fires, thinking he has a gun,” Mr. Karasyk said in an interview Saturday night. “If this guy had kept his hands up or on the wheel, we wouldn’t be here. Had not for this person reaching down, lunging for the floor and not complying with orders to show his hands, we wouldn’t be here. All he had to do was show the officer his hands and this tragedy would not have occurred.”
No weapon was found in the car. A small power drill was found on the floor of the driver’s side, police said.
A front-seat passenger in Mr. Polanco’s car, however, has refuted Mr. Karasyk’s account, told to him by the detective. The passenger, Diane Deferrari, told investigators that Mr. Polanco had no time to comply with orders to put his hands up. He still had his hands on the steering wheel when he was shot in the abdomen area, according to Ms. Deferrari, who characterized the shooting as police road rage.
On Saturday morning, Mr. Polanco’s mother, Cecilia Reyes, made a tearful plea for a full and thorough inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the shooting of her son.
“I’m not going to give up until I get justice,” Ms. Reyes told a crowd of a few hundred at the offices of the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network in Harlem. “I want justice. I want no cover up; I want answers,” she said as Mr. Sharpton stood alongside her.
Mr. Polanco was driving on the Grand Central Parkway just after 5 a.m. on Thursday when he was pulled over by uniformed members of the Police Department’s Emergency Service Unit, who were riding in unmarked vans. They said that he had twice cut them off.
Mr. Karasyk said officers activated lights and sirens and yelled at Mr. Polanco to pull over, but he sped up and continued driving, which escalated the officers’ level of alertness.
“He was a danger to other motorists on the road,” Mr. Karasyk said. “A reasonable person doesn’t refuse to pull over in response to a police vehicle flashing lights and sirens. They actually had to box him in and pull him over.”
The officers were on their way to execute a warrant in Brooklyn. Ms. Deferrari said the officers rushed toward the car “like an army.” A second passenger, an off-duty police officer named Vanessa Rodriguez, was asleep in the back seat, police said.
On Friday evening, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly visited Ms. Reyes at her Corona home to express condolences.
Mr. Sharpton said on Saturday morning that he and others supported her call for a full investigation and an explanation of what happened. “This is about what is right and what is fair,” he said. “For unarmed innocent people to be killed is wrong, and it has got to stop.”
Wearing a black T-shirt bearing a likeness of Mr. Polanco, Ms. Reyes paused several times to wipe her eyes, while telling the crowd that her son, an Army reservist, had wanted to become a police officer. “We want to believe in the law,” she said. “We don’t want to have to be afraid of the law.”
Toxicology tests, administered after the shooting, showed no drugs or alcohol in Detective Hamdy’s system, police said.
“He is a squared-away guy. He doesn’t drink. He takes no drugs. He is on no medications whatsoever,” Mr. Karasyk said.
Chistopher Maag contributed reporting.