In the line of duty, the ultimate test of an officer’s abilities can arise at a moment’s notice. For Hoboken Police Officer Keith Rotondi, it took less than five minutes on a spring evening to go from filing a report at headquarters to facing down a man with his hand in his jacket pocket begging to be shot.
On March 26, Rotondi responded to reports of a shoplifting at a downtown pharmacy. He chased the alleged suspect on foot into the Hoboken PATH station. With nowhere left to run, the man turned to Rotondi on the platform with his hand concealed. “He kept saying, ‘you’re gonna have to shoot me!’ ” the officer recalled.
The man had had previous run-ins with Hoboken police and was known to sometimes carry a firearm. Even worse, Rotondi’s radio didn’t work underground, leaving him without backup until another Hoboken policeman, Ferdinand Rivera, arrived.
Rotondi had his gun trained on the suspect, but didn’t want to use it.
“Nobody got hurt; that’s the bottom line.”—Keith Rotondi
Finally, the man turned away from Rotondi and threw a plastic bag allegedly containing synthetic cannabis onto the train tracks. With the potential threat dispelled, the officers were able to restrain and arrest the man, who was charged with shoplifting, possession of a controlled dangerous substance, and resisting arrest.
Rotondi credited his composure to the biannual training he receives from the Hoboken Police Department’s firearms instructors. “We do it so much and they do it so well that it just came into play,” said Rotondi. “I think any cop in this department would have done the same thing I did.”
Against the backdrop of an ongoing national conversation over shootings of unarmed suspects by police, the example set by Rotondi in March stands out as a heartening counterpoint.
“Nobody got hurt, that’s the bottom line,” he said. “At the end of the day, that’s what we want.”
In recognition of his extraordinary restraint, Rotondi was awarded the Croix de Negotiator Laurel at the 2015 Hoboken Police Department Awards Recognition Program Ceremony on July 27.
Rivera received the Gallantry Star for his role in the incident.
The two were among 69 officers honored at the event for exceptional acts committed in the line of duty.
Over the past two years, Hoboken law enforcement personnel have foiled car thieves, busted drug-dealing rings, and rescued senior citizens from burning buildings.
Thin blue line
Many of the incidents commemorated at the July awards ceremony involved efforts that almost certainly saved lives.
Last October, a group of seven Hoboken officers worked together to restrain a man threatening to jump off a six-story apartment complex on Jefferson Street. While Sgt. Anthony Pasculli engaged in a nearly hour-and-a-half dialogue with the 23-year-old suicidal male, the other officers cautiously prepared for a rescue grab.
By the time Pasculli succeeded in calming down the individual, the officers were in a covert position, ready to spring into action. Together, Sgt. Edgardo Cruz and Officers Juan Madera, Cesar Olavarria, and Armando Caraballo pulled the male down from the parapet of the building to safety.
The operation earned Pasculli the Croix de Negotiator Laurel and Cruz and company the Life Saving award. Officers Nicholas DeTrizio and David Montanez were also given Letters of Commendation for their roles in the incident.
In another striking sequence this past April, police rescued a man who had stripped off his clothing and jumped into the Hudson River. Despite the darkened late night conditions, Special Police Officers Brian Kapp and Jonathan Sabatini quickly spotted the male in the water near the South entrance of Pier C Park, nearly 50 yards from where he had jumped in.
Officers Luke Zeszotarski and James Dillon arrived soon after and threw the man a rescue rope, allowing him to stay above water until a New York Police Department dive boat was able to fish him out.
At the same time, Officers Joseph DiMartino and Paul Quinn had to restrain the man’s brother when he climbed over the river fence with the intention of jumping in after his brother. All six officers were given the Honorable Service award for their performance during the ordeal.
Pulled woman out of car
The police didn’t only save people from themselves.
In July 2014, officers William Montanez and Dylan Archilla risked their lives to pull a woman from a car crash that had triggered a natural gas leak.
Responding to reports of a crash, Archilla and Montanez found the woman’s BMW sedan pinned against a house in the area of 16th Street and Park Avenue. Upon approaching, they noted the odor of natural gas and the hiss of a ruptured line caused by the collision.
As natural gas filled the vehicle’s cabin, Archilla climbed inside and extracted the woman, carrying her to safety with the assistance of Montanez. The feat earned both officers the Life Saving award.
Giving the nod
The recognition and respect of one’s peers is important, but many Hoboken police value the gratitude of those who are saved as well. Even Rotondi had a chance to see the appreciation of the man he came close to shooting in the Hoboken PATH station. Soon after the situation was diffused, Rotondi said, the individual apologized, and the two now see each other frequently on the street.
“We give the nod,” he said. “He knows me, I know him.”
Rotondi said he doubts that the man truly intended to commit suicide by cop that day.
“I think he was freaking out,” he said. “He caught himself in a bad situation, he wasn’t prepared for the situation. Unfortunately, his actions would have been the worst mistake of his life. Fortunately it wasn’t.”
A full rundown of the acts of bravery honored at the 2015 Hoboken Police Department Awards Recognition Program Ceremony can be found online at www.hobokenpd.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/2015-HPD-Awards-Ceremony.pdf
Carlo Davis may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.