By Jeanette DeForge
Source The Republican, Springfield, Mass.
SPRINGFIELD, MA—Police Superintendent Cheryl C. Clapprood agreed she owes Pedro Perez a new sweatshirt — and her deep gratitude for saving the life of two of her officers on Tuesday.
Perez was driving to his home in the Atwater section of the city when he happened on a Springfield Police officer who was struggling to subdue a suspect accused of robbing a MetroPCS store. He stopped, asked if she needed help and then jumped into the fray.
During the scuffle, which included a police lieutenant who arrived soon after, the suspect then managed to grab the first officer's gun and fire it twice, shooting one bullet through his own hand. The second bullet went through the hood and collar of Perez's gray sweatshirt and into the side of his Ford Raptor pickup.
The shots also narrowly missed the two officers before the three were able to disarm him. Other officers arrived almost immediately and were able to handcuff and arrest Joseph Gonzalez, 41, of Springfield.
"Today is a good day for the Springfield Police Department, but if not for the actions of Mr. Perez and the officers involved, today could certainly be a tragedy," Clapprood said. " Mr. Perez certainly didn't have to help my officers but for the Grace of God ... you had the ability and the willingness to save two officers lives and for that my family, the Springfield Police Department, will be forever grateful."
Clapprood and Mayor Domenic J. Sarno publicly thanked Perez on Wednesday in a press conference which was also attended by his brother David Perez, a city firefighter, his sister Lujan Urena and his daughter Anabelle Urena.
While Clapprood said the Police Department constantly relies on citizens to provide information about what is going on in their neighborhoods but Perez went far above and beyond that and averted what could have been a tragedy.
"Instead of keep driving, ignoring it or recording it, he sees an officer in distress and asks that officer if they need help. The officer asked for help and Mr. Perez did not hesitate," she said.
But Perez, 31, who owns Café D'Jolie at 1365 Main St. in Springfield and renovates and resells homes, shrugged off the accolades, saying he is just a normal person whose was brought up being taught to help when he could.
"It was an instinct," he said. "I noticed she was in distress and a little assistance was needed so my first reaction was to jump out of my truck and help out. I didn't think about the consequences...It was just, 'help out.'"
One of the first things he noticed was the officer was less than half the size of the suspect she was trying to subdue.
His brother, a former Marine who lives very close to the scene, said he heard the gunshots, threw on his sweater and ran outside. He saw his brother's distinctive blue truck first and then his sibling in the middle of the scene with multiple police officers handcuffing Gonzalez.
The two estimated Gonzalez is 6 feet, 6 inches tall and weighs 290 pounds.
Clapprood said the female officer, who has been a department member for at least 10 years, is about 5 feet, 4 inches tall and weighs about 120 pounds. She did not release the names of the two officers involved on Wednesday.
The two officers have been placed on administrative leave, which is typically done for an officer-involved shooting. They were not injured but brought to the hospital after the arrest to be evaluated and will go through a "critical debriefing" before they return, Clapprood said.
The Detective Bureau under the direction of Trent Duda is investigating the incident. Clapprood said an initial examination of footage from police body cameras and witness statements show the officers followed protocol.
The incident started at about 12:25 p.m., Tuesday when a man held up the MetroPCS on 500 Armory St. The suspect threatened the clerk with a large knife, took money from the cash register and fled.
Police responded and aired a description over the radio about 15 minutes after the crime. The female officer soon after spotted Gonzalez, who matched the description, and confronted him.
The body worn camera revealed Gonzalez did not follow orders to stop and show his hands and started yelling and screaming at the officer, Clapprood said.
"He takes off running and she took off running and she tackled him," she said. "It was a split-second decision."
Before confronting Gonzalez, the officer had radioed information to her colleagues and called for backup. When he started running, her only options were to wait for other officers and possibly let an armed man escape or to apprehend him since she was patrolling alone, Clapprood said.
"That is our job. You apprehend the criminal and put a stop to it," she said.
"My officers involved put their lives on the line to prevent this individual from causing any additional harm. These officers displayed a degree of professionalism and bravery that their families, our fellow officers and the residents of the city they serve should be extremely proud of," Clapprood said.
Gonzalez is being treated for the self-inflicted gunshot to his hand and is still hospitalized. He is expected to be arraigned in Springfield District Court on 15 different charges, including nine felonies, once he is released, which is expected to be later in the week, she said.
Police also recovered cash and the knife that is believed to have used in the MetroPCS robbery after they handcuffed Gonzalez, Clapprood said.
Charges include three counts of firearm-armed assault to murder; assault and battery to disarm a police officer; two counts of assault and battery on a police officer; assault and battery; armed and masked robbery; larceny of a firearm; possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony; possession of ammunition without a permit and malicious damage to a motor vehicle, said Ryan Walsh, police spokesman.
Gonzalez also has a record for a previous armed robbery and Mayor Domenic J. Sarno publicly asked the judge who arraigns him to "do the right thing" and set a high bail to keep him off the streets.
But he mostly thanked Perez for stepping in and called him a hero and a "tremendous Good Samaritan." Sarno said he contacted Perez earlier to show his appreciation and found him "humble and genuine"
Sarno also praised the police for the good work they did to apprehend Gonzalez, saying the officer showed incredible restraint.
"He jumped right in there and helped subdue that criminal, putting himself in harm's way. His vehicle was shot up," Sarno said. "He was also shot at."
Sarno said Perez told him he had actually applied to be a police officer a decade ago but did not make the cut.
"Please reapply, we will take you," Sarno said. Perez responded with a laugh.
Sarno's chief of staff contacted a friend, Jack Mastroianni, long-term owner of Mastroianni Auto, to ask if he could fix the bullet hole in Perez's truck.
Mastroianni said he would do so at no charge and will provide a loaner vehicle while the truck is in the shop.
"You hear about something like this and you want to help," Mastroianni said.
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