NEW YORK - On July 20, New York Police Sergeant Hameed Armani faced a situation that could either turn him into a deserter or a hero. The Afghan immigrant opted for hero.
Armani remembers it as a beautiful night. Times Square in New York City was packed “with thousands of people.” Armani and his partner, Officer Peter Cybulski were watching them from their parked police van around 11:30 p.m. when a man in a sports utility vehicle tossed a device into the van through an open window. It landed on the dash board.
“I looked at Cybulski and at the device.The lights started flashing, and it started to make noise,” recalls Armani.
“Cybulski goes, ‘Boss this is a bomb.’ I looked around. The first thing I saw was two little kids right in front of my van and looked to my left. The area was packed with people.”
Armani decided to take the device and go as far as possible from the crowd. He said Cybulski was on board with the decision.
Cybulski held the device as Armani drove to a more deserted location on Sixth Avenue. They put the device on the ground and called the bomb squad.
The experts determined the object was a dud, but the heroism of the police was real.
New York City Police Commissioner at the time Bill Bratton said the two officers were NYPD heroes and the heroes of New York City.
"They put their own lives at risk so that they could save potentially hundreds if not thousands of people in Times Square," Bratton said.
Reason for pride
Armani immigrated to the U. S. in 2000. He joined the New York Police Department (NYPD) in 2006.
“Born and raised in Afghanistan, I have seen a lot of injustices,” he says. “My goal and motivation was one day I will become a law enforcement officer and do the right thing.”
With recent attacks against law enforcement officers in various parts of the U.S. Armani says his 12-year-old daughter worries about his safety.
“She watched the news of cops being killed that week and made me promise her that I will come back home safe,” Armani added.
“When I was driving in the car with that device that night, I was like, ‘Wow I am breaking that promise with my daughter. But I am sure she is going to be proud of me if anything happens.’”
Sergeant Carlos Nieves, a public information officer at NYPD said Sergeant Armani is a dedicated member of the force.
"They [Cybulski and Armani] took what they believed to be an actual bomb and put their lives at risk in order to prevent mass loss of life in Times Square.”
Value of human life
Armani is a Muslim and Cybulski, a Catholic. The sergeant says that they both prayed as they drove with the blinking object.
“As I always teach my daughter, the very first thing is we respect each other because we are human beings regardless of color, religion, ethnicity,” the sergeant says. “At that moment, I never thought am I going to save a Muslim’s life or a Christian, or Catholic, or Jewish. My goal was there would be human life, and it does not matter if it costs my life.”
Armani and Cybulski did what few in any police force would do in that particular scenario, says Arch Nissel, who served in the West Virginia State Police Department for 20 years.
“In most cases, the cops will get out of the vehicle and call the EOD [Explosive Ordinance Disposal] to dispose of the device,” Nissel said. “What they did is above and beyond the norm and an indication of selflessness and courage.”
Nissel retired as a first sergeant in charge of the bomb squad at West Virginia Police Department before going to Afghanistan to serve as a U.S contractor with U.S counter IED operations.
Better to evacuate?
While praising the bravery of two officers for what they did, retired Marine EOD tech Johnny Joseph Jones believes that the right thing would have been to evacuate the area since moving the device could have triggered an explosion.
“The majority of killing or harming power of something that small would be 50 to 100 meters so the smart thing to do would be to immediately push people 50 to 100 meters away from that vehicle and vacate any building nearby, ” Jones said. “ But that takes time. Perhaps it would take more time to do that than to have driven where they drove to.”
The next morning, police arrested a man suspected of throwing the device into the police car. Hector Meneses, 52, was stopped in a gold SUV at Columbus Circle.
When police caught up with him, he told them he had a bomb strapped to his chest and wanted to die. The threat, another bluff, led to a standoff that shut down the busy area of the city for several hours.