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On the afternoon of February 5 in Stratford, Connecticut, police officer Michael VanGrowski was dispatched on what he assumed would be a routine call: Someone had allegedly tried to have a phony prescription filled at a local drugstore.

Arriving at the store, he tried to question the suspect who, he remembers, "just walked right past me like I wasn't even there." The officer grabbed the man, Frank Altieri, and asked to see some identification. "He said he had it in his car, and we went outside," VanGrowski recalled for the March 11 Stratford Star, but as they walked through the parking lot, Altieri pulled free and began to run. After a brief foot pursuit, VanGrowski tackled him in a snowbank and they began wrestling and punching each other.

The 6' 4", 240-pound Altieri pinned the smaller VanGrowski against the snowbank, then tried to grab the lawman's handgun. "He got the safety snap off the holster and was tugging on it," VanGrowski told the Star. "I was scared for my life. I felt for sure if he got my gun, he was going to shoot me with it. He told me several times 'I'm going to kill you with your own gun.'"

John Valenti, 66, a U.S. Postal Service driver, happened to be passing by at that moment and heard the commotion. He jumped from his truck and ran to help the beleaguered officer. As VanGrowski fought to keep Altieri from snatching his gun, Valenti jumped on the crazed man's back and began pummeling his head.

With Altieri momentarily distracted by Valenti, VanGrowski retrieved a canister of pepper spray that had fallen from its holster. He and other officers eventually subdued Altieri with pepper spray and batons. Altieri was arrested and charged with attempted murder, attempted first-degree assault, third-degree assault, interfering with a police officer, and fraudulently obtaining prescription drugs.

Valenti was treated at a local hospital for a few cuts and bruises suffered during the altercation. On March 8, Stratford town and police officials honored him with a special proclamation recognizing his heroism. He says he has no idea why he acted as he did. "Something just said 'Go.' Someone needed help, and I just did it."
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Title Annotation:The Goodness Of America
Author:Lee, Robert W.
Publication:The New American
Date:May 17, 2004
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