The year is 1797, and summer is in full swing in a blossoming New York City.
On Broadway Street, near St. Paul’s Church, Deputy Sheriff Robert Berwick is attempting to serve John Young a writ, the story goes, while escorting him to a local jailhouse to obtain bail.
According to documents uncovered by NYPD Sheriff Joe Fucito and Officer Down - a non-profit organization dedicated to honoring America's fallen law enforcement heroes - it’s at that moment that Young pulls a handgun on Berwick, and fires a fatal bullet into the officer’s chest.
Moments later, Young flees towards Barclay Street, where he encounters Mr. Thompson. Thompson had run out of his house upon hearing the gun shot; now, he is demanding an answer from Young, who is carrying a pistol in each hand.
“I did it at the instigation of the devil,” Young replies, according to Thompson’s testimony in court one month later. Young hands him the pistols, and tells him to “beware.”
Young would go on to be convicted of the deadly crime, and sentenced to death by a trial of his peers.
Though 223 years have come and gone, Sheriff Fucito and the team behind Officer Down have managed to keep this wild story preserved. As a result, Officer Berwick is finally being formally recognized and honored for putting his life on the line.
“Well, he was an officer, and he was killed in the line of duty, and that is a very important thing to know,” Sheriff Fucito said during a phone interview with our Shannon Ferry. “The records are obviously very old, but one shouldn’t be forgotten just because of time.”
In 2019, with the help of Officer Down, Fucito submitted the case to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial (NLEOM). Established in 1984, the nonprofit honors law enforcement who have died in the line of duty by inscribing their names on a memorial wall, and reading their names aloud during a candlelit vigil.
In ordinary times, the vigil takes place in Washington, D.C., where the organization is headquartered. This year, however, because of the coronavirus pandemic, the vigil was held virtually at 8 P.M. Wednesday night.
This year’s speakers included Police Commissioner Dermot Shea, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and other prominent officials.
In a way, Fucito said he feels a connection to Officer Berwick, despite the hundreds of years that separate them.
“I started as a deputy sheriff in New York City,” Officer Fucito said. “I was assigned to Lower Manhattan. The Sheriff’s Office, when I started, was at Chambers Street, which is not far from Broadway and St. Paul’s Church.”
Fucito told NY1 that, if anything, he wants people to remember the sacrifices law enforcement make, day in and day out, to protect people, especially those who make the ultimate sacrifice.