Friday, July 24, 2009

Detective DiNardo Wake

A rain, cold for July, grimly fell. Police and firemen gathered under the canopy at the entrance of McLaughlin Funeral home. They were here with hundreds of others to pay their respects at the wake for Detective Marc Anthony DiNardo. His funeral was held the next day.

I didn’t know this man, except by sight. He was one of the cops you see around. His picture in the paper looked familiar. I’m pretty sure I talked to him once or twice. Not anything in depth, just a hello or good morning or a comment about the weather, an exchange of pleasantries. You do that sort of thing in Jersey City with familiar faces in the neighborhood, those extras in the movie of your life, especially the police. Unlike say, Los Angeles or New York City—or the suburbs—the police do not just cruise around in their squad cars. Maybe that’s one reason there are so few reports of police brutality or racial incidents here. Our cops walk the neighborhood. They are friendly and approachable. You interact with them. You get to see their decency.

The shooting made the news, a friend of mine from another part of the country called me, “what is happening in Jersey City?” News Vans appeared in the city the day the shooting occurred, broadcasters gathered footage and interviewed locals for days.

One thing that is happening is that people are sad. Tuesday morning he died. “I recognized him,” a buddy told me. “I was talking to him just the other day at the St. Anthony Feast. I didn’t know him, I was just talking to him there.”

I was getting a sandwich at the Bodega. “He used to come in here,” said the gal behind the counter.

“My business partner knew him,” said the guy she was talking to. “He grew up in Jersey City.”

“Messed up,” another friend of my said, later in the day. “My husband knew him.”

One, two, three, degrees of separation. You don’t have to be part of city government to know somebody who knows someone, it’s a small city. This new fissure in the fabric of our community is easily felt.

Detective DiNardo died the day before his 38th birthday. He was the husband and father of three young children. Born and raised in Jersey City, graduated St. Peter’s College in 1996, was the son of a retired Jersey City police lieutenant, Paul DiNardo. According to news reports, he was assigned to the Emergency Services Unit, which responds to hostage-takings and other police emergencies, two years ago. He and other officers in the unit rescued a young woman in the Hackensack River near the Wittpenn Bridge in June.

He was the 38th Jersey City police officer to die in the line of duty in the department’s 180 year history. One can only imagine how those close to him feel to have him taken away so violently and suddenly. For the rest of us, we lost a law officer who had a college degree, knew the community, and was part of the community. He was the kind of cop a city needs, the kind of cop a city prizes.

The incident unfolded just before dawn at a building on Reed Street. The assailant, by all accounts, a pathological criminal with a long arrest record, was armed with a pump-action, 12-gauge shotgun that had retractable stock and a sling lined with slotted shells—a weapon reported stolen in South Carolina two years ago. The man and his girlfriend went to a red Ford that the police were staking out—it had been used in an armed robbery of a van at a Jersey City oil-change garage a few weeks earlier. In the course of that crime, the van driver had been shot in the stomach and was released from the hospital only a couple of days prior to the Reed Street incident.

The woman saw the officers and started running, the man raised the shotgun and fired—blowing apart the windshield of the cruiser, grazing one of the policemen in the leg and shredding the passenger seat. As the suspects ran into the Reed Street building, the man continued firing at the officers. Backup was called in. Jersey City officers, Hudson County sheriff’s deputies and Port Authority Police Officers arrived. They sorrounded the building. Then, dressed in riot gear, some of the law enforcement front-liners headed up stairways and down halls, banging on doors to evacuate the building. Those blue uniformed extras in our movie were suddenly thrust into a violent action movie, where the bullets were all too real and every moment mattered.

At apartment 3D, into which the suspects had fled, Officer Michael Camacho stood in front of Detective DiNardo, who was holding a shot gun. Officer Camacho held a four-foot battering ram. Behind them was Officer Frank Molina, carrying a ballistic shield. According to J.C. Deputy Chief, Peter Nalbach, when the battering ram hit the door, the assailant fired rapid volleys from his high-powered shot gun. The police officers were hit. They went down.

The police returned fire and a violent psychopathic criminal will cause no one harm again. No bystanders were injured during this bloody siege, which took about 90 minutes.

Detective DiNardo was shot in the face and arrived at the Jersey City Medical Center in full cardiac arrest and remained unconscious. Officer Camacho, 25, sustained shotgun blasts to the neck—although still in critical condition and unable to speak, he is reportedly improving. Officer Malino, 35, was shot in the back but was protected by a bullet proof vest. He has been released from the hospital.

On the morning of Detective DiNardo’s wake there were even more News Vans in Jersey City. There was another breaking story to cover. More than 40 people were arrested on corruption charges, including the Deputy Mayor, Councilmen, Housing Inspectors and an Assemblyman from Jersey City. One man gave his life as part of his duty; politicians, whose duties include supervising the police department, used their office for illegal monetary gain. They were arrested on a day Detective DiNardo was remembered. An irony they all can be ashamed of.

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