Like a typical shootout with police, there will be screams and the popping from handguns.
The scene: an ugly showdown between police officers and an alleged thief. When it’s over, the two cops will be injured and a third will be dead.
But the dramatic scene unfolding at a Coral Springs gas station Sunday will only be a re-enactment based on the real-life tragedy in the Bronx on Valentine’s Day 1984.
Joe Johnson, the producer of “Every 58 Hours,” is a retired New York street cop turned private investigator who will present his documentary at upcoming film festivals in hopes of catching interest from a network to make a series. The name of the show is based on the idea that an officer dies in the line of duty every 58 hours on average, or 150 per year, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
The first episode, showing the death of Officer Thomas Ruotolo, is a labor of love for Johnson. The two worked together at the notorious 41st precinct nicknamed “Fort Apache” because it felt like an outpost in enemy country. It was even the basis for a 1981 film, “Fort Apache, The Bronx,” starring Paul Newman.
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Johnson and Ruotolo were friends. Johnson says Ruotolo lent him a nightstick that fateful night for an assignment doing crowd control at a Menudo concert in Manhattan.
Ruotolo only had a week left on the street beat before he was supposed to be transferred to headquarters “because he was a computer expert. It was a nice cushy office job,” Johnson laments.
Part of the story will play out in Coral Springs. Ruotolo, 30, and his partner, Officer Tanya Brathwaite, 23, heard that a white moped had been stolen. As they searched, they spotted George Agosto, 24, at a gas station a couple blocks away.
Ruotolo asked him for his identification.
Lisa J. Huriash, An undercover detective was put on administrative leave without pay Wednesday, one month after his arrest on allegations he stole thousands of dollars from his own police union. An undercover detective was put on administrative leave without pay Wednesday, one month after his arrest on allegations he stole thousands of dollars from his own police union. ( Lisa J. Huriash, ) –>
Then, according to the New York Times, Agosto shot Ruotolo once in the head at a range of less than five feet. Brathwaite responded with a single shot from her service revolver, but she fell to the ground with a bullet in her lower back.
An off-duty officer, Hipolito Padilla, who was a pay phone at the station, opened fire. He shot five times at the gunman before he himself was shot in the stomach. The phone was still dangling from the hook hours after the shooting.
After the shootings, hundreds of police officers searched basements and roofs in the Bronx, police dogs followed a trail of fresh blood leading away from the service station, and police helicopters hovered.
Five hours later, a wounded Agosto walked into the hospital’s emergency room where he was arrested. He was sentenced to 40 years in prison for the murder.
His next parole hearing is September 2023 and he’s incarcerated at the Clinton Correctional Facility in New York, Johnson said.
Agosto, who was free on parole after killing a teenager in 1977 at a Bronx club, later blamed the system for what happened. “It’s the law’s mistake,” he told The Associated Press. “You know, it’s a correctional mistake that they let me out.”
Johnson picked the Chevron station, at 9550 W. Sample Road, for the filming because the brick facade could look like it’s in the northeast. He is investing $10,000 into the show.
The actors are mostly people he befriended while dabbling as an extra on various TV shows and will ad lib some of the script so it’s “spontaneous.” The actor playing Brathwaite already knows police lingo; her day job is a Miami police officer.
The TV series sounds like a good idea, said Steve Groeninger, communications director for the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund in Washington, D.C. “Any time we can raise the awareness of what law enforcement goes through helps enlighten the public they serve.”
Johnson, 59, of Oakland Park, retired from the agency in 1986 after only six years: “I was shot, stabbed, pushed out a second-story window. I can tell you stories that would curl your hair if you don’t already have curly hair.”
If the series has interest, he has plenty of other fallen officers to choose to profile for his next show.
And he has local support.
“It’s a good thing to show tragedies on both sides,” said Coral Springs Police Chief Tony Pustizzi. “It’s fair to represent both sides.”
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