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John J. D'Amico, 69, hero narcotics cop wounded on duty

He also served the state as a narcotics agent.

John D'Amico
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THE POLICE BRASS had enough of their hero cop being shot and decided it was time for him to go.

John J. D'Amico had been shot in four separate incidents in his work as an undercover narcotics cop, once famously taking a bullet in the face during a drug raid in 1982, and spitting it out in an alley later, along with 11 teeth.

After each shooting, John would be back on the street after hospitalization, eager to keep going no matter the risk. He loved it.

But the department was adamant. Its image was at stake. John had to go.

In one last try to save his career, John marched to the Police Administration Building at 8th and Race streets and confronted Deputy Commissioner Robert F. Armstrong.

"Can I talk to you?" John asked. "You're putting me out, and I don't want to go."

Armstrong was unmoved. He told John it was time for him to retire.

That was 1988 and the end of a Philadelphia police career that included multiple honors and commendations, numerous bad guys locked up, and many hair-raising adventures on the city's mean streets.

John J. D'Amico, a Philadelphia police officer for 20 years and later a narcotics agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration and the state Attorney General's Office, a Republican candidate for the state Senate in 1988, an Army veteran and a devoted husband, father and grandfather, died Wednesday. He was 69 and lived in South Philadelphia.

"He was a glutton for punishment," said his long-suffering wife, the former Linda Carmichael.

As a Philly cop, John was a Highway Patrol motorcycle cop, an undercover narcotics officer and trainer of narcotics investigators.

"He lived police work," said longtime friend Capt. Lou Campione, commander of the 1st District at 24th and Wolf streets. "He was courageous; he had an iron spine. He was a class act."

One of John's assignments was with what used to be called the "granny squad," in which officers disguised themselves as elderly women, nuns and other vulnerable people to lure muggers.

But his main work was his 13-plus years in the narcotics squad, doing mostly undercover work to locate dealers and then lead raids on their operations.

In one raid in Germantown, John was shot in the hip, which spun him around, and then was shot in the back. After six months of hospitalization, he was back on duty.

"Somebody said, 'Are you crazy?' " Linda said. "But he loved what he did and he was good at it."

As a Highway Patrol officer, he participated in the Hero Thrill Show at old John F. Kennedy Stadium, in which patrol officers did stunts on their motorcycles.

Among them was Thomas J. Gibbons Jr., a highway cop wounded on duty and a retired Inquirer police reporter.

"He was a great guy to know," Tom said. "He was 'Downtown South Philly.' He could light up a room. He lived and breathed being a cop."

At one time in the '80s, John's life was threatened after he was instrumental in arresting some members of the notorious Black Mafia. Members of the stakeout squad were assigned to follow him around as bodyguards, but that just annoyed John. He and his partner did their best to elude them.

After leaving the Police Department, John helped set up a city office for the state attorney general's narcotics operation. He started his own tactical narcotics team, and members often found themselves tracking down meth labs in the boondocks, sometimes places where the local cops wouldn't go.

"He was always the first through the door," Linda said.

As a DEA agent, John traveled to California and Texas in pursuit of a major drug operation.

In 1988, the state Republican Party asked John to run for the state Senate against Vince Fumo. He had the backing of the GOP organization and former Mayor and Police Commissioner Frank Rizzo. Despite making a respectable showing in the firmly Democratic 1st Senatorial District, he lost to Fumo.

John was then health benefits administrator for the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police, a service he was instrumental it creating.

John was born in Philadelphia to Cecilia and Benjamin D'Amico. He attended South Philadelphia High School and later earned a general equivalency diploma. He joined the Army and was stationed Korea.

Besides his wife of 46 years, he is survived by a son, John D'Amico Jr.; a daughter, Dina Million; his mother; two sisters, Donna Ray and Maria Pugliese, and three grandchildren.

Services: Funeral Mass 10 a.m. tomorrow at St. Rita of Cascia Church, Broad and Ellsworth streets. Friends may call at 6 this evening and 8 a.m. tomorrow at the Monti-Rago Funeral Home, 2531 S. Broad St. Burial will be at Fernwood Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, 262 Danny Thomas Place, Memphis, TN 38105.