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SPRINGFIELD — A local hero, who risked his life to support Springfield police officers in 2022, received support from Mayor Domenic Sarno and the Police Department as he reopened his business after being closed for a year and a half.

At the grand reopening of Café D’Jolie Restaurant and Café on Feb. 20, Sarno described owner Pedro Perez as the “definition of a hero.” On Dec. 27, 2022, two officers were arresting a suspect, who was later convicted of robbing the MetroPCS store on Armory Street at knifepoint. When Perez, who was driving by, saw police struggling to subdue the man, he said he jumped out of his vehicle “on instinct” and dove in to help the officers. The suspect dropped the knife, but in the scuffle, was able to unholster an officer’s service pistol and fired two shots. While no one was injured, it was a close call for all three people handling the suspect and a bullet went through Perez’s sweatshirt, according to Police Superintendent Cheryl Clapprood. Perez was recognized for his bravery with a national Carnegie Hero Fund Award in 2023.

“We can never thank you enough,” Clapprood told him at the event. “Not everyone would or could do what you did.” She said that while the Police Department normally would not recommend civilians become involved in police interactions with suspects, “There are exceptions.” It was a rare set of circumstances that allowed the suspect to pull the pistol out of the officer’s holster. “The officers were overtaken” and “needed an extra set of hands,” she said.

Clapprood told Reminder Publishing that while one of the officers Perez aided that day was present at the event, the other never returned to the job due to post-traumatic stress disorder from the incident.

Reflecting on the job of police officers, Perez said, “People see it as, ‘They’re cops. That’s their job.’ To me, it’s more than just a job. If you’re a man or woman in blue, or you’re not in blue, it’s something in you.” Perez said he had friends in law enforcement and had considered entering the field himself. Despite passing the test, however, he was not called up and decided to open his business.

Perez opened Café D’Jolie, 1365 Main St., in 2021 but was forced to close due to construction on a nearby parking lot between 2022 and 2023, he said. Now reopened, the cafe offers breakfast, lunch and what Perez called, “Dominican street food” and “late-night eats.” Sarno delivered a proclamation from the city, naming Feb. 20, “Café D’Jolie Day.” On the proclamation, he wrote, “God bless you, Pedro, and thank you again,” wishing him “continued success and good health.”

Sarno urged people to come for lunch. “It’s important that we support him,” he said. Claprood added that she had given her officers permission to stop into the restaurant during their shifts.

Considering both his business and his 2022 act of bravery, Perez said, “There’s something in this city that I want to keep it going and show that there’s good here.”

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