New York Daily News

November 29, 2003

Vests give police 2nd shot at life

Bullet-stoppers save 80 Finest in 25 years

Special Report

By MICHELE McPHEE
DAILY NEWS POLICE BUREAU CHIEF

Raymond Kelly holds up bullet proof vest.
Raymond Kelly holds up bullet proof vest.
Officer Peter Garrido was shot in the chest in May.
Officer Peter Garrido was shot in the chest in May.
Lt. Michael Barreto was stabbed in the back. His vest saved his life.
Lt. Michael Barreto was stabbed in the back. His vest saved his life.

When the bullet struck Sgt. James Gentile directly over his heart, his thoughts were of his wife, pregnant with their first child. Would he live to see either?

But the slug buried itself deep in his bulletproof vest, fractions of an inch from his chest.

Of all the cases of cops surviving shootings in recent years, the Oct. 30 case of James Gentile is one of the most dramatic.

Twenty-five years after their introduction, more than 80 cops are alive, or have escaped serious injury, thanks to the 10 layers of Kevlar woven together into the vest.

"They are a godsend," said Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly last week. "Sgt. Gentile is the most dramatic case in recent years. The bullet hit literally over his heart and he's still walking around."

"Next to a police officer's brain, a protective vest is the most valuable piece of defensive equipment," said Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch.

The vests have been mandatory for all cops except undercover officers since 1988, when two officers were executed in separate shootings on the same day.

They have stopped not only bullets, but shotgun blasts, stabbings and other potentially lethal attacks.

For many of the cops who faced death, being saved by their vests has proved a life-changing experience.

Today, the Daily News examines some of their stories:

Lt. Mike Barreto, 37, 101ST Precinct

Barreto was standing in a Queens precinct house when he was nearly killed.

A deranged man on a suicide mission drove a 7-inch butcher knife into his back while yelling, "Shoot me! Shoot me!"

The knife was stopped by Barreto's vest.

"I turned around and saw him with a knife in his hand. It felt like someone punched me in the back, that's what it felt like. I didn't realize I got stabbed," Barreto said. "I took my jacket off. My shirt was ripped, and the first panel had a puncture hole in it."

Barreto was supervising an arrest made by one of his officers when he was attacked on Oct. 25, 1998.

"If I wasn't wearing a vest, I would have been killed," he said. "It's very shocking. It puts in perspective what's important in your life. What matters. It was a normal Sunday evening in the house, then all the sudden something happens you could have died from.

"The big difference in my life now is that I wear my vest all the time, and I have become very adamant about everyone under me wearing the vest," he said. "It's become a big pet peeve of mine, and everyone knows it."

Lt. Raymond Upton, 54, Now Retired

The job at 500 Hancock St. in Brooklyn on March 29, 1997, was exactly the kind used to teach rookie cops why bulletproof vests are essential.

A gunman was robbing a third-floor apartment when 81st Precinct Lt. Raymond Upton and his cops arrived and were met with a hail of bullets fired by a crackhead.

The gunman fired at least five shots from a .45-caliber Smith & Wesson, hitting Upton once in the chest.

"It felt like I got hit with a sledgehammer in the stomach. The bullet knocked me down," Upton said. "I was laying in the hallway, and the perp was firing over my head. The other cops returned fire over my head."

The bullet hit his vest so hard that he had a friction burn on his chest.

"It took off the top layer of my skin. I had a big oozing spot there," Upton said. "If I didn't have my vest, I would have been in trouble."

The incident made him inspect every cop at roll call to make sure all are wearing their vests.

"I think that day showed a lot of my cops that you never know."

Detective James Derby, 40, Emergency Service Unit Truck 1

It was supposed to be a simple arrest - a man pulled off a Manhattan train for smoking.

But the suspect pulled out a gun and bolted, firing shots over his shoulder on Oct. 18, 1998.

He ran into a building at 80 Stone St. in lower Manhattan and was holed up in an elevator room when Derby arrived.

Derby and another cop were searching an elevator shaft when the doors opened and the suspect squeezed off two rounds, hitting Derby in the chest with a small-caliber bullet.

"It felt like a stinging sensation," Derby said. "I didn't realize I was hit until a couple of days later when I checked my vest and found a round in it. The bullet was lodged in there. There were no marks, nothing."

The incident made Derby adamant about warning younger cops to wear a vest at all times.

"Some guys say they don't want to wear it. It's hot. It's hard to move. It's foolish to feel that way. The idea is to go home and see your family every day," Derby said. "When we see people not wearing the vest, we harass them. I stress it out to the new guys in the unit what happened to me. The bullet hit my right upper chest - a good location to kill me."

Officer Peter Garrido, 27, 77TH Precinct Anti-Crime Unit

Whenever Garrido dresses for work, a half dollar-sized scar over his heart reminds him why his bulletproof vest is a lifesaver.

On May 22, Garrido was shot twice while arresting an armed mugger in Brooklyn. One of the bullets would have hurtled straight through his heart but was stopped by layers of Kevlar.

"All the sudden it felt like he kicked me right in the chest really hard. I flew back 7 or 8 feet, but I didn't fall down. Then I felt a sledgehammer [bullet] hit my ankle, and blood started flowing out of my sneaker," Garrido said. "I pulled down the vest, and right in the center of my chest was a big hole. It looked giant to me. It was an inch deep, and there was blood coming from the hole. I really thought the bullet went through the vest. It looked terrible, and I thought the bullet was lodged in my chest."

But the round had pierced seven of the 10 layers of bullet-resistant fabric of the vest and then fell into its nylon cover.

"You never think much about the vests. Yeah, they are uncomfortable - especially when it's hot - and it looks boxy, but it's become second nature. It's unbelievable what they can do to save people's lives," Garrido said. "I wouldn't be here right now without it; I really wouldn't."

Detective Gregory John, 35, Emergency Service Unit Truck 7

On a rainy August day in 2000, Arthur Alalouf, a crazed former correction officer with an arsenal of weapons, threatened to kill his family and anyone who came near him.

When Emergency Service Unit cops showed up at his Gravesend, Brooklyn, home, he began firing wildly out the window.

Before he was killed by police after a six-hour standoff, Alalouf wounded four city cops.

John, who was wearing a bulletproof vest under his uniform and an ESU flak jacket, was hit with nine thundering bolts from a shotgun that fired .32-caliber bullets.

The bullets hit John's vest so hard the impact ripped skin from his chest. He also has bullet scars on his left arm and a round lodged behind a rib.

"Thank God, the vest caught seven of the bullets that would have instantly killed me," John said. "If I wasn't wearing a vest, I would have died instantly. The shooter was 10 feet away and he fired at my heart.

"This has made me realize how quickly you can lose your life," John said. "What I got out of it was to spread the word. I'm living proof. The vest truly saved my life."

1978

  • Officer C. Concepcione shot in chest

1979

  • Officer J. Murphy shot in chest
  • Officer V. Capobianco shot in chest

1980

  • Officer R. Merkle shot in chest and hand

1981

  • Officer R. Sotero shot in chest
  • Officer T. Hayes stabbed in chest
  • Officer T. Kennedy shot in chest
  • Officer D. Rios shot in shoulder and chest

1982

  • Officer W. Washington shot in chest, arm and hip
  • Officer M. Kukura shot in chest

1983

  • Officer C. Attanasio shot in chest
  • Officer D. Hunt stabbed in chest

1984

  • Officer John Leho shot in chest
  • Officer W. Lopez shot in chest
  • Officer P. Ednie shot in chest and arm

1985

  • Sgt. M. Abbott shot twice in chest, once in each arm

1986

  • Officer C. Rodriguez shot in chest
  • Officer F. Piro shot in back, neck, jaw and cheek
  • Officer R. Garcia shot in chest

1988

  • Officer C. McCarthy shot in chest
  • Officer D. Ripillino shot in chest and arm

1989

  • Officer W. Wengert shot in chest
  • Officer Paul Yurkiw shot in chest
  • Officer Michael Hinrichs shot in back
  • Officer Dominick Long shot in back
  • Officer Michael Lisi shot in stomach and back

1990

  • Officer Michael Reiter shot in chest
  • Sgt. T. Corleto shot in back
  • Officer Timothy Hardy stabbed in chest
  • Officer Joseph Dietrich shot in chest
  • Officer Michael Sierra shot in chest
  • Officer Gary Rifkin shot in chest
  • Officer Patrick Mulhuland shot by sniper

1991

  • Officer Joseph Somma shot in back
  • Officer Alberto Morales shot in chest
  • Officer Patrick Rodriguez shot in chest
  • Officer Terrence McCorry shot near neck

1992

  • Undercover officer shot in chest
  • Officer Richard Ricotta shot in back
  • Officer Mark Brocato shot in chest, neck and back
  • Sgt. Michael Sullivan stabbed in chest
  • Officer M. Bailey shot in back, heel, thigh and buttocks

1993

  • Officer B. Cook shot in stomach
  • Officer Todd Ellson shot in chest
  • Officer William Hayes shot in chest
  • Detective Milton Harper shot in chest

1994

  • Officer Andrew Canonico shot in back
  • Officer Ralph Maher stabbed in torso
  • Officer Christopher Keegan shot in chest
  • Undercover detective shot in back
  • Officer Daniel Kelly stabbed in chest
  • Officer Pietro Ferranti shot in stomach
  • Officer Jacob Brown shot in chest
  • Officer Charles Martin shot in side

1995

  • Officer Richard Anderson shot in chest
  • Officer R. Gallagher shot in chest
  • Officer A. Sampogna shot in chest
  • Officer Keith Schweers shot in chest twice
  • Sgt. Darren Finn shot in chest

1996

  • Officer James Appio shot in back
  • Officer Andrew DeStefano shot in stomach
  • Detective David Joseph shot in chest three times
  • Officer Richard Padin shot in chest

1997

  • Lt. Raymond Upton shot in chest
  • Officer Peter Bueti shot
  • Sgt. Richard Medina shot in chest
  • Detective Wafkey Salem shot in chest

1998

  • Sgt. Dexter Brown shot twice
  • Detective James Derby shot in chest
  • Lt. Mike Barreto stabbed in back

2000

  • Detective Gregory John shot in chest

2002

  • Officer Claude Jean-Pierre shot in chest and arm

2003

  • Officer Peter Garrido shot in chest and ankle
  • Sgt. James Gentile shot in chest, stomach and arm

**Details of six incidents unavailable

Source: NYPD