Jonathan Nunez, of Centereach, pleaded guilty Monday in the stabbing of then-Suffolk County Police Officer Christopher Racioppo in April 2021. NewsdayTV's Cecilia Dowd reports. Credit: Anthony Florio; File Footage

The Centereach man who stabbed and nearly killed a Suffolk police officer two years ago during a methamphetamine-fueled assault in a Patchogue backyard pleaded guilty Monday in Riverhead and will most likely be sentenced to 16 years in prison. . 

Judge Stephen L. Braslow ordered Jonathan Nunez, 27, to return to court on March 13 after the defendant pleaded guilty to aggravated assault of a police officer and nine other charges.

Sgt. Christopher Racioppo – the cop Nunez nearly killed during the April 10, 2021 assault – attended the hearing, along with his wife Brittany and dozens of  Suffolk Police Benevolent Association members. 

Racioppo, who officials said could have bled to death during the attack, said he was “relieved” that Nunez pleaded guilty.

“I’m satisfied with the 16-year sentence. I do believe Mr. Nunez does belong behind bars,” said Racioppo. ”I think it is safer for him and safer for everybody else in Suffolk County.” 

Nunez pleaded guilty on Monday because he wanted to spare Racioppo from having to testify about that horrific night at trial, according to his attorney, Christopher Brocato of Central Islip. The defendant did not negotiate a deal with Suffolk District Attorney Raymond Tierney’s office, he said. 

Suffolk County Police Officer Christopher Racioppo lost most of his blood...

Suffolk County Police Officer Christopher Racioppo lost most of his blood after a defendant plunged a knife seven centimeters into the officer’s left thigh during a struggle in a Patchogue backyard. Credit: James Carbone

“It is an expression of his extreme remorse,” Brocato said of the guilty plea. “He knew what he did was wrong. He did not want to put the police officer through a trial and have to make him go and testify before a jury and drag this out. He wanted to accept responsibility and he did accept responsibility.”

Suffolk prosecutors said Nunez, high on methamphetamine, was driving a 1999 Mercedes-Benz erratically on South Ocean Avenue in Patchogue when Racioppo attempted to pull him over. Nunez sped away and later crashed into a 2004 Nissan, injuring the driver of that vehicle.

Nunez exited his vehicle and fled on foot, according to prosecutors, who said Racioppo followed him into a backyard. Nunez then plunged a knife seven centimeters into Racioppo’s left  thigh, severing his femoral artery. Civilian witnesses and responding officers restrained Nunez and provided first aid to Racioppo, who would have died if not for that assistance, officials said after the incident. 

“I think this case is a stark reminder of the dangers our police officers face, and given the facts of the case, it is also a reminder why we need police out there, to protect us from those who would endanger the safety of the public,” Tierney said.

Nunez acknowledged in court that he continued to act violently even after he was detained, kicking one officer in the eye at a hospital where he was taken for treatment of injuries he suffered during the encounter.

Tierney said prosecutors had asked Braslow to sentence Nunez to the maximum penalty, 30 years in prison. Braslow said he thought 16 years in prison was appropriate. 

“It is still a substantial sentence,” Tierney said. “The defendant did waive his right to appeal, which will provide finality in the case.”

Brocato said Nunez had taken a large amount of Adderall, a stimulant, prior to the attack on Racioppo. He said Nunez was struggling with substance abuse issues at the time. 

Racioppo said he spent 16 days at Stony Brook University Hospital. He returned to work in October 2021 but said he still suffers from pain and leg issues. 

“It is nothing short of a miracle that he is here right now, that he is still serving the people of Suffolk County, bravely, every day,” said Lou Civello, second vice president of the Suffolk Police Benevolent Association.  

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