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NYPD cop awarded for intervening in fatal shooting off-duty

“It was just instincts, honestly,” Police Officer Jason Maharaj said

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By Thomas Tracy
New York Daily News

NEW YORK — The young off-duty cop who heroically tackled an enraged homeless man that shot and killed a Queens smoke shop worker said he jumped into the fray with one goal in mind: to stop any more killing.

“It was just instincts, honestly,” Police Officer Jason Maharaj said as Ozone Park community leaders honored him for his heroism. “Just stop the threat. I don’t know who else he could have shot in the store. He could have shot me, he could have shot the other employees.”

“It was crazy. It was scary. It was like a split second decision ... what I had to do,” he said.

It happened in a flash.

Maharaj, 27, was inside the Crossbay Express Smoke and Vape Shop on Cross Bay Blvd. about 6:15 p.m. on Oct. 26 when Steven Cohen, 63, barged into the store and fatally shot 26-year-old Mohmediyan Tarwala.

With Tarwala fatally shot, Cohen — who was homeless — next aimed his gun at store employee Henil Perakh.

Maharaj said his eyes were trained on Cohen’s pistol when he jumped into action.

The off-duty cop barreled into Cohen, pushed him out the store’s door, and tackled him to the ground.

“I tackled the gun and then we wrestled for it,” said Maharaj. “We went to the ground, waited for the police to respond.”

Maharaj, who joined the NYPD in 2018, is a regular at the store — though Perakh said he didn’t know the officer’s name until after the incident.

“Trust me, that guy was an angel for me,” Perakh said of the cop in a recent Daily News interview. “He really saved my life ... If he wasn’t there, I’d be dead too.”

Cops charged Cohen with murder, attempted murder and criminal use of a weapon.

Dozens of people honored Maharaj’s bravery Saturday at an event outside the Desi Senior Center in Queens, about a mile away from the store.

“Jason’s actions really speak for themselves,” said NYPD Assistant Chief Ruben Beltran, the commanding officer of Patrol Borough Queens South. “(He was) selfless, just thinking about saving other people within that store at the risk of his own life.”

“It’s something I’ve seen many times in my 35 years of policing here, but I never get tired of seeing it,” he said.

Assemblyman Michael Miller (D- Queens) called Marahaj a “true hero.”

“In a time like that, I know for myself, I wouldn’t be running after a gunman with a gun,” Miller said. “You did. You did the job even though you’re off duty.”

Maharaj took a moment to remember Tarwala before receiving the accolades.

“My deepest condolences go out to his friends, family and loved ones,” he said.

Sam Esposito of the Cityline Ozone Park Civilian Patrol said bullet holes were still in the store’s plexiglass barricades.

“It’s quite chilling to see what we saw the other night,” he said.

Maharaj graciously accepted a handful of awards, but appeared overwhelmed by being center stage.

“I’m a very shy person,” he said. “The accolades — they mean something. But at the end of the day everybody’s just doing their job.”

(c)2020 New York Daily News