The mother of a 22-year-old unarmed driver shot and killed by police after being pulled over on a busy highway near LaGuardia Airport on his way home from work decried the shooting Friday and demanded justice for her son.
"They're just gonna take my son like that ... like he's some kind of criminal ... 22 years old, never got in trouble. I want justice for my son," sobbed Cecelia Reyes. "I'm not gonna let his memory stay like this. He was not a bad kid."
Reyes' son, Noel Polanco, was on his way home to Corona from his job at the Ice Lounge in Astoria early Thursday when he was shot. He'd offered a ride to a colleague, bartender Diana D'ferrari, and another woman, who was an off-duty police officer, according to law enforcement sources. All three lived in the same part of Queens.
As they headed home on the Grand Central Parkway, Polanco was pulled over after cutting off what turned out to be an unmarked police van.
When Polanco stopped the car, a detective approached the vehicle and asked him to show his hands, according to police.
The detective, a 12-year veteran assigned to ESU, fired a single shot through the passenger-side window and hit Polanco in the stomach. He was taken to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
It's not clear what prompted the detective, identified as Hassan Hamdy, to fire the shot. Sources said Hamdy may have thought Polanco was reaching for a gun under his seat. But D'Ferrari, who was sitting in the front passenger seat, said his hands were on the steering wheel "at all times" and that the officers were angry when they pulled him over.
"This was an act of road rage by the police because my friend cut him off, cut off the police," she told reporters Thursday. "The police proceeded to chase us, sticking their middle finger at us and screaming obscenities at the car."
No gun was recovered from the car.
"To pull you over and ask for license and registration is one thing," said D'Ferrari. But "to jump out of a vehicle, rifles drawn and say simultaneously 'Put your hands up' -- and I hear a pop."
The off-duty police officer in the car, who was in the backseat, told investigators she was asleep when the shooting happened.
Polanco served in the U.S. Army for four years, enlisting in April 2008. He was assigned to the 1156th Engineer Company headquartered in Kingston, N.Y.
Friend Tito Cordero said Polanco returned from a tour awhile back and in addition to bartending, had been working at a Honda dealership detailing cars.
"He worked hard, two, three jobs," said Cordero. "He was a quiet, good kid. There's no aggressiveness in this kid."
Reyes said her son wanted to become a police officer after serving in the National Guard. She says she plans to hire an investigator to review the case.
"I'm going to make sure that his name is going to stay clean because he was not a bad kid," Reyes said.