By Murray Weiss, DNAinfo Columnist / Criminal Justice Editor
Read more: http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20130104/astoria/fatal-police-shooting-of-unarmed-queens-man-go-grand-jury#ixzz2H30xXxgT
QUEENS — A grand jury will begin hearing evidence next week in the fatal police shooting of an unarmed National Guardsman who was pulled over on the Grand Central Parkway in Queens last October, DNAInfo.com New York has learned.
Starting on Tuesday, a 23-member panel in Queens will be asked to determine if Det. Hassan Hamdy, a veteran Emergency Services Unit cop, should face a criminal charge after he fired through the window of Noel Polanco’s car, killing him.
Hamdy is expected to testify during the month-long presentation of evidence that Polanco, who police said was driving drunk that fateful night, suddenly reached down toward the floor, prompting Hamdy to fear Polanco was reaching for a gun and forcing the detective to fire a single fatal.
A female passenger, Diane DeFerrari, is expected to testify that Polanco, 22, was no threat to Hamdy. She has publicly claimed that she saw Polanco’s hands on the steering wheel at the time of the shooting, but during interviews with police she said she was looking at Hamdy.
“It will come down to a credibility issue,” one informed source explained. “She will say she did not see Polanco reach for anything that would warrant the officer Hamdy firing. He will say he had reason.”
“It is a split-second thing and the jurors will determine which factual scenario they want to believe,” the source added.
Polanco’s blood alcohol level was later determined to be .15, nearly twice the legal limit, sources say.
It is unclear what role the blood alcohol results will play in the jurors' final decision. “They might think you should not be dead from drunk driving unless you crash your car,” another source said.
But police officers under law are permitted to fire if they believe they, or someone else, is being threatened with deadly force.
Prosecutors from the Office of Queens District Attorney Richard Brown could ask the grand jury to bring manslaughter or reckless manslaughter charge against Hamdy, a father of two and former Marine who served in Japan and Norway.
Last Oct. 4, an NYPD van filled with elite Emergency Service cops was returning from the Bronx where they assisted in executing a warrant and were heading to a similar job in Brooklyn when they were passed by a speeding car driven by Polanco.
Earlier that evening, Polanco drank several glasses of Hennessey cognac at an Astoria bar where Ferrari worked before then offering to drive Ferrari and another friend, off-duty NYPD cop Vanessa Rodriguez, home, police said.
The ESU cops say they pulled Polanco’s Honda over because they believed he was going to hit another car or crash his own. When they put on their lights and sirens to stop him, Polanco sped away until the cops managed to catch up and force his vehicle to halt alongside the parkway median.
Det. Hamdy, who was in uniform, was the first cop out of the van. He yelled, “Police,” and demanded Polanco keep his hands on the wheel. Within seconds, however, Hamdy fired the fatal shot.
Polanco, whose National Guard unit was based in Kingston, N.Y., was posthumously promoted to sergeant at his funeral. His death touched off protests against police tactics.