Jonathan Nunez was sentenced to 16 years in prison for stabbing Sgt. Christopher Racioppo in 2021. The Suffolk County police officer nearly died. NewsdayTV's Cecilia Dowd reports.  Credit: Newsday/James Carbone

A Suffolk County judge told a Centereach man he should “thank God” the life of a police officer he stabbed was saved, as he sentenced him to 16 years in prison Monday.

Acting state Supreme Court Justice Stephen Braslow told Jonathan Nunez, 27, that if not for other police officers and witnesses stepping in to help injured Suffolk Officer Christopher Racioppo, he would be sentencing him on a murder charge. Nunez pleaded guilty last month to aggravated assault of a police officer and nine other charges as part of a plea agreement reached with the judge.

“Here’s the knife that you used,” Braslow told Nunez as he held an image of the weapon he plunged seven centimeters into Racioppo’s left thigh the night of April 10, 2021. “This is not a knife that people use to chop onions with. This is a knife to stab people with. You came prepared that night.”

Nunez, who had faced up to 30 years in prison if convicted of the assault charge, faced the judge as he apologized to Racioppo, who sat in the courtroom’s first row alongside his wife, Brittany, other family members and dozens of police officers who came to show their support.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Jonathan Nunez of Centereach was sentenced to 16 years in prison for stabbing and nearly killing Suffolk Police Officer Christopher Racioppo following an attempted traffic stop in April 2021.
  • The sentencing is the result of a plea agreement worked out with acting Supreme Court Justice Stephen Braslow. Prosecutors had sought the maximum sentence of 30 years.
  • Racioppo returned to work in October 2021 and has since been promoted to sergeant. He said he still deals with pain in his leg, but is grateful to be alive.

“Police officers are subjected to threats and danger on the job every time they show up for work. When an honest hardworking police officer is attacked, it’s an attack on our community and order,” Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney said in a statement. 

Assistant District Attorney Sheetal Shetty, who prosecuted the case, noted in court that the district attorney's office had sought the maximum sentence for Nunez. 

Nunez, whose sister attended the sentencing, said he suffers from mental health issues and was high on methamphetamines the evening Racioppo attempted to pull him over on South Ocean Avenue in Patchogue before he accelerated, beginning a high-speed chase that ended when he crashed into another vehicle.

Nunez exited his vehicle and fled on foot, according to prosecutors, who said Racioppo followed him into a backyard. Nunez then stabbed the officer, severing his femoral artery. Civilian witnesses and responding officers restrained Nunez and provided first aid to Racioppo.

“You cowardly stabbed him, because you didn't want to be arrested for driving high,” said Officer Taylor Herbst, who was credited with applying the tourniquet that saved Racioppo’s life.

Herbst, who gave a victim impact statement along with Racioppo, said he will never forget the name Jonathan Nunez and the date of the incident, which he called a “horrible night.”

“But now I can associate your name with March 13, 2023, a day that justice has been served,” the officer told Nunez.

Suffolk County Police Sgt. Christopher Racioppo reads a victim impact statement...

Suffolk County Police Sgt. Christopher Racioppo reads a victim impact statement in court during the sentencing of his attacker, Jonathan Nunez, in Judge Stephen Braslow’s courtroom in Riverhead on Monday. Credit: James Carbone

Speaking outside the courtroom, Racioppo, whose wife was pregnant with the couple’s first child at the time he was attacked, indicated he wasn’t ready to accept Nunez’s apology, but he told Braslow he respects his attacker’s “decision to admit guilt and accept punishment.”

“I do not wish any harm to Mr. Nunez as he serves his sentence,” Racioppo told the court. “I truly hope he uses the time to reflect on his mistakes.”

Defense attorney Christopher Brocato called the sentence “fair and just” and said he is hopeful his client will return to society a changed man.

“He's been remorseful from the very beginning,” Brocato said. “This case was never going to trial because he knew what he did was wrong.

Racioppo said he spent 16 days at Stony Brook University Hospital, including 10 days of being intubated. He returned to work in October 2021 but said he still suffers from pain and leg issues. He said he’s grateful he has been able to return to police work, having since obtained the rank of sergeant.

Brittany Racioppo gave birth to the couple's second child two months ago, the couple said.

“I'm just happy that justice is being served and we can finally move on with our lives,” Brittany Racioppo said outside the courtroom.

Both Racioppo and the judge thanked each of the officers who assisted at the scene by name during the sentencing.

"I feel you're all heroes," Braslow told the officers who attended the sentencing. 

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