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Suffolk police officers honored for role in ending deadly 2013 standoff in Shirley

From left; New York Lt. Governor Robert J.

From left; New York Lt. Governor Robert J. Duffy stands with Sergeant Christopher Prokesch, Sergeant Ryan Sefton, and Officer John Klien, front, during a ceremony to honor the officers for the Governor's Police Officer of the Year award in Hauppauge, Sept. 3, 2014. Credit: Ed Betz

Suffolk police Officer John Klein crept into the dark, silent Shirley backyard, flashlight in hand, thinking the man neighbors had heard yelling and firing a shotgun might be dead.

The gunfire had ended, but not the danger.

Klein's partner knocked on the home's back door. In an instant, the door burst open and the shirtless man, later identified as Paul M. Caruso, 46, raised the shotgun and pulled the trigger.

The faceoff led to a 10-minute standoff that ended with the gunman dead and Klein, known as J.D., and two other Suffolk officers hailed as heroes.

During a ceremony Wednesday at the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge, the three officers each received the state's "Police Officer of the Year Award" for their actions on the night of June 28, 2013.

The officers "exemplify the very best of New York's law enforcement community, whose members each and every day put themselves in harm's way in order to protect their neighbors and serve their communities," Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said in a news release.

Suffolk police sergeants Christopher Prokesch and Ryan Sefton accepted their awards with Klein.

Eight officers from five other law enforcement agencies statewide were nominated for the award, officials said.

"These officers were surprised by someone who was better armed and had the element of surprise in his favor," Suffolk Police Chief of Patrol John Meehan said Thursday.

Despite the odds, only Klein was hit in the gunfire after one of the five rounds from Caruso hit the seven-year veteran in his leather holster. Klein was not injured but said he's lucky to be alive.

"Thank God the guys there were there," Klein said.

Earlier, neighbors dialed 911 and reported shots fired from Caruso's Carlton Drive East home. Officers responded and talked to neighbors. They peered into the home but blinds blocked their view.

As Klein's partner knocked on the backdoor, Klein identified both as police officers, he said. Caruso soon came through the door.

"I got something for the police," Klein recalled Caruso saying. The officers scrambled for cover as Caruso opened fire.

His gun in his right hand, Klein returned fire. He held his flashlight in his left.

"I saw the barrel come out. I screamed gun, gun, gun," Klein said Thursday. "I was shooting and moving -- one handed."

The gunshot to his holster "twisted my entire body," Klein said, adding that he fell but kept firing. One shot hit Caruso's gun. The gunman slipped back inside.

Outside, Prokesch heard the shots, told officers to take cover, and took a head count. He then led an evacuation of neighbors and "set up a perimeter around the house," Cuomo said.

Caruso emerged from the house in body armor and a Kevlar helmet. Toting a semiautomatic rifle, he fired 10 rounds through his front screen door at Prokesch, a 27-year veteran, and Sefton, a 13-year veteran.

Both returned fire, killing Caruso. Klein said their perseverance paid off.

"We held our own and won, which is what we're supposed to do," Klein said.

With Gary Dymski

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