HAMPTON BAYS, Long Island — Thousands of police officers from as far away as San Diego, California and Portland, Oregon traveled to Hampton Bays, Long Island Wednesday to join a long line of NYPD Blue, paying tribute to Detective Brian Simonsen, 42, who was killed by “friendly fire,” while responding to a robbery in Queens last week.
The suspect in the case had started charging toward officers with a large, fake gun inside a T-Mobile cell phone store on Atlantic Avenue. Seven officers fired 42 shots, and one hit Detective Simonsen fatally in the chest.
“The only two people responsible for Brian’s death are the career criminals who went to that store,” a very emotional NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill said during his eulogy, near the end of Mass.
He received a standing ovation, after announcing that Simonsen would be promoted posthumously to Detective First Grade.
Simonsen’s Sergeant from the 102 Precinct, Matthew Gorman, attended the service in full uniform and a wheelchair, after also getting shot in the February 12 exchange.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio arrived with First Lady, Chirlane McCray.
“Today, New York City is heartbroken,” de Blasio said in the first eulogy, remarking that Detective Simonsen was supposed to be off-duty the day he was killed. “I think we can all agree we have lost one of our very best.”
He noted Simonsen’s mother, Linda, has suffered “so much, so long,” a reference to Linda Simonsen losing her teen daughter more than two decades ago, followed by Simonsen’s father, her husband, a short time later. Brian Simonsen was just a teen then and took on the role of ‘man of the house.’
The detective’s mother later shook her head with sadness, as she was escorted from the Church of St. Rosalie in Hampton Bays.
Her son was about to be buried near his sister at Jamesport Cemetery.
Simonsen’s best friend and former police partner spoke of the detective’s wife, Leanne, whom Simonsen met in Las Vegas in 2011 and then courted long distance, between his home base in Suffolk County, New York and hers in Chicago.
“Leanne, he loved you so much,” Richard Waters said through tears. “I will miss my partner. Mostly, I will miss my friend.”
Many who came to mourn Detective Simonsen remembered his kindness and compassion for the people he served in the 102 Precinct for his entire career of 19 years.
He was called “Smiles” because Simonsen always greeted everyone with good humor.
“His bravery is greatly appreciated,” said Sandra Datnarain of the 102 Precinct Community Council. “My two boys are officers as well, and it came close to home.”
Commissioner O’Neill told the mourners about the 600 arrests Detective Simonsen made in his career, 500 of them felonies.
He spoke of Dr. Khan, a pulmonologist at Jamaica Hospital, who was beaten badly during a Kew Gardens robbery, a week before Simonsen was killed.
Detective Simonsen treated the doctor with supreme kindness, and he made an initial arrest in the case on February 12. Then, while cruising the streets looking for a second suspect, Simonsen responded to the fateful call about a robbery in progress at T-Mobile.
Dr. Khan was devastated when he learned that Detective Simonsen was pronounced dead at Jamaica Hospital, where he was back working the night of the shooting.
Commissioner O’Neill’s voice broke as he reminded New Yorkers that thousands of officers, like Simonsen, respond to dangerous 911 situations all the time.
“Take a moment to think about who answers those calls,” O’Neill said, referring to the sirens we often hear on our streets. “They are the very best among us…they will always be there…against violence, against cruelty.”
It was a strong message to the people, from a department that has struggled, at times, with police/community tensions.
Detective Brian Simonsen loved his work so much, that he drove 140 miles round trip each day, between his home in Suffolk County and the people he served in Queens County.