A day after a homeless man hacked an NYPD detective in the face with a meat cleaver, the officer returned home to Long Island scarred, but in good spirits.
Brian O’Donnell was joined by his three children, wife and other family members as they were escorted to a tidy, shingled house in Northport by NYPD and Suffolk County police officials about 3 p.m. Friday.
O’Donnell, a 16-year NYPD veteran assigned to the 19th Precinct on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, did not respond to questions about how he felt as the family exited a blue sedan and a Honda SUV. He instead turned to reporters watching from the street, a long gash running down the left side of his face, and waved before walking into his home.
One neighbor said O’Donnell felt strongly about his duty as an NYPD officer and joined the chase for the attacker rather than “let the other guys handle it.”
Meanwhile, at NYPD headquarters, Commissioner William Bratton, in his final remarks as commissioner, called O’Donnell a “hero” for his actions Thursday evening. He described O’Donnell as “an off-duty detective who saw his brothers running towards danger.” Earlier in the day, O’Donnell was greeted with applause from fellow NYPD officers and hospital staff as he left Bellevue Hospital Center in Manhattan, where he was taken in serious condition after the attack.
O’Donnell had appeared in court and was off-duty, heading toward Penn Station about 5 p.m. Thursday when he saw an altercation unfolding between NYPD officers and a suspect identified as Akram Joudeh, 32, with a last known address in Queens.
O’Donnell “did what any officer would do” after seeing the altercation, and ran to assist, Bratton said.
Chief of Department James P. O’Neill said officers had approached Joudeh at 31st Street and Broadway as he attempted to remove a steel parking boot from his car. He pulled out the meat cleaver with an 11-inch blade and ran north on Broadway with at least six officers in pursuit, O’Neill said.
The suspect ran up Sixth Avenue until he turned onto 32nd Street, O’Neill said. An officer hit Joudeh with a Taser but the weapon failed to stop him. Joudeh then mounted the front grill of a responding patrol car. O’Donnell, in plain clothes, tried to knock the cleaver from the man’s hand when Joudeh struck him with it, O’Neill said.
In addition to O’Donnell, Joudeh was admitted to Bellevue in critical condition after being shot by NYPD officers. An officer grazed by a bullet and another officer who sustained an unspecified minor injury also were treated at the hospital and released, a source said.
A high-ranked NYPD official said the suspect did not appear to be triggered by anything other than anger over the fact that his car, which he had been living in, had been booted.
Word of the incident quickly spread among O’Donnell’s neighbors on Friday. He was known on the quiet, tree-lined street as a charismatic and friendly presence, the kind of man who made cheerful small talk with the mail carrier and said hello to neighbors as his three children played in the street.
“I saw a police car come yesterday but I didn’t think anything of it,” said Georgia Golfos, who has lived across the street from O’Donnell and his family for 10 years.
Golfos said she was surprised at the violence, but not that O’Donnell had jumped in to help. He was always willing to lend a hand to his neighbors, she said.
“Brian is so, so nice. He looks out for everybody,” Golfos said Friday morning. “He’s a wonderful neighbor. The whole family, they are lovely people.”
Down the street, Charles Roby described O’Donnell as a “wonderful, friendly man” who felt strongly about his duty as an NYPD officer.
“He could have easily just went into the train station and went on the train and said let the other guys handle it,” Roby said.
Roby is himself a former Nassau County police officer and his oldest son works as an NYPD detective. When Roby’s grandchildren come to visit, O’Donnell’s three sons often play with them while O’Donnell and Roby’s son catch up.
Thinking about the risk O’Donnell took and the fact that it could have been his own son makes him emotional, Roby said.
O’Donnell “was probably concerned about the welfare of the people on the street,” Roby said. “It’s scary . . . I know he has three young sons over there. I get very emotional.”
With Alison Fox and Ivan Pereira