A Queens man who police said threw a fake device into an NYPD van in midtown on Wednesday night and kicked off a standoff with cops that lasted until the morning was charged on Thursday with a slew of offenses.
The man, 52-year-old Hector Meneses, originally from Columbia, barricaded himself inside an SUV in Columbus Circle until he was finally coaxed out and taken to Mount Sinai Roosevelt Hospital for a psychiatric evaluation, police said.
On Thursday afternoon, he was charged with several offenses, including placing a false bomb, making a terroristic threat, reckless endangerment, and resisting arrest.
The surrounding area near the circle was closed off for hours, but by late Thursday morning most roads had been reopened, police said.
Meneses first tossed the device into the parked police van, where Sgt. Hameed Armani, and officer Peter Cybulski were sitting, at about 11:30 p.m. by the corner of W 46th Street and Seventh Avenue before he drove off, police said.
“The sergeant immediately drove the van approximately one block in order to leave the proximity of Times Square, which as you all know, is very crowded,” Chief of Department James O’Neill told reporters.
When they got to Sixth Avenue, Armani — who immigrated from Afghanistan with his then-infant daughter and has been with the NYPD for 10 years — took the device out of the van, which O’Neill said turned out to be “a candle, a cylindrical object and an electric component with a flashing red light. These items were wrapped in a white cloth.”
Police Commissioner Bill Bratton praised the officers for their “exemplary” actions and for their quick thinking. Both officers are assigned to the Times Square detail.
“They put their own lives at risk so that they could save, potentially, hundreds if not thousands of people in Times Square,” Bratton said at a news conference on Thursday, adding that “they did not exit the vehicle and attempt to flee it. Instead they made the conscious decision to move that police vehicle out of Times Square to get it away from the huge crowds in the square.”
Bratton, who called the officers “heroes,” said Cybulski has been with the NYPD for three years and always wanted to be an officer.
On Thursday, Armani recalled the terrifying moment when his partner told him “boss, this is a bomb.”
“I looked around, saw a lot of kids, a lot of young people, a lot of people I would say around Times Square,” he said at a press briefing. “We both looked at each other and I was like ‘we’re going to go but I’m not going to have anybody else go with us.’ The lights on, I put the car in drive, tried to get as fast as possible away from Duffy Square.”
Armani said as they were driving for about 30 seconds to a minute, both cops were saying their prayers.
“We thought this is it, we’re not going to make it,” he said. “But I’m happy no one else is going to get hurt.”
Cybulski said they go to “work every day not knowing what, quite literally, might be thrown at us.” He said he and Armani have worked together for more than two yeas.
“No one got hurt, I was happy,” Armani added. “It was a good day.”
At about 2:10 a.m., police said the SUV was spotted near Columbus Circle. They stopped the vehicle, but the driver quickly put a red plastic helmet on his head and refused to talk.
They called for backup and started trying to talk to the man, later identified as Meneses, with hostage negotiators.
While O’Neill said Meneses, who kept opening the center console and kept one of his hands out of sight, didn’t talk much, at one point he did tell the negotiators “there were explosives in the vehicle.” Police then used a robot with a camera attached to talk to him.
At about 7:45 a.m. cops were able to get Meneses out of the SUV and deemed the vehicle to be safe, police said.
“The bravery, heroism, professionalism displayed by [officers] through the many long hours of this morning I cannot extol enough,” Bratton said about all of the officers involved. “They are reflective of the best of this police department.”