Suspect cites dislike of authority in decision to assault rookie N.Y. officer with bat

By Luis Perez

Danny Fernandez says he has a problem with authority figures - and that's why he bashed a police officer in the head with an aluminum baseball bat, then stole his gun and handcuffs, he said in prison yesterday.

"I wasn't looking at the individual," Fernandez said in a visiting room at Rikers Island Jail in Queens. "I was looking at what they represented."

The Flushing man, 21, who didn't have a criminal record before he attacked rookie Police Officer Joseph Cho, 32, said, "I was just doing what everybody wishes they could do but is too scared to."

Speaking calmly, Fernandez described a life of desperation set off by a spat with his mom over $16,000 in debt, depression and out-of-control anger against police.

Fernandez, charged with attempted murder and aggravated assault, was arrested early Monday by a pair of rookie police officers, one of whom witnessed the attack, prosecutors said.

Cho is in stable condition at Elmhurst Hospital Center with a fractured skull and concussion.

Wearing a gray prison smock and tan plastic sandals, his hair unkempt, Fernandez recalled how he wandered the frigid sidewalks of Corona with the aluminum bat stuffed inside his jacket, looking for a police officer.

Only once, when Cho was 10 feet away, did Fernandez reconsider his plan, he said.

"I clammed up," he said. "I thought, 'This is crazy. Most people won't do this.' But I went and did it anyway."

While Fernandez stopped short of providing details of the attack, prosecutors said he repeatedly struck Cho in the head with the bat before fleeing with the police officer's 9mm. service handgun.

His plan to attack a police officer, along with robbing banks and armored cars, was hatched in part from watching movies and reading newspaper accounts of criminal acts, Fernandez said. He said he had to pay off medical and credit card bills and loans.

"I wasn't going to do something small," he said. "I was going to go all the way."

Born in Queens, Fernandez described a detached relationship with his mother, who works in real estate, and father, a taxicab driver, who divorced several years ago.

His mother, who answered the phone at her Flushing home but didn't give her name, said her son is not a criminal.

"He made a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes," the mother said. "He is a good little boy. He had a big depression."

A Navy dropout who left on a medical discharge, Fernandez said his ill will toward the police was spurred by a dozen traffic tickets he received in a month and his belief that police unjustly stop and frisk minority youths.

He said he was a sophomore at LaGuardia Community College, where he was studying education, but became disillusioned. He said he was still enrolled at the school.

In the end, Fernandez said he didn't resist arrest when approached by officers Pat Lynch and Christine Schmidt because he didn't want to be killed by police.

"I didn't want to give them that," he said.

During the interview, Fernandez said he was worried about the impact his actions would have on his brother, Pedro, 15, and 17-year-old sister, whom he didn't name.

When prompted by questions about the officer's injuries, Fernandez apologized.

"I hope I didn't cause irreparable damage so he can get on with his life," Fernandez said.

Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, scoffed at Fernandez's apology.

"If this thug is truly sorry for attacking Police Officer Cho, then let him plead guilty to assaulting a police officer and take his punishment like a man," Lynch said.

Copyright 2007 Newsday, Inc.

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