Mike Marziale patrolled the former Calliope, Magnolia, Melpomene and St. Thomas public housing developments as a 6th District New Orleans cop in the 1970s.
Fellow officers said he was exactly the kind of guy you wanted in your platoon: aggressive but not so aggressive that he racked up complaints. Quick with a joke but serious about his work.
“He’s responsible for teaching me the ways of the streets,” said Johnny Miller, the security director for Jefferson Parish, who retired as a New Orleans homicide detective in 1997. “We made felony arrests, and we made bunches of them.”
Not many cops who walked the streets when Richard Nixon was president can still call themselves active police officers — but Marziale, 62, can. His 43 years with the New Orleans Police Department make him the fifth-longest-tenured officer, according to department records.
The friends Marziale has made in a lifetime of service are now rallying around him after a Nov. 25 car crash sent him to the hospital, where he remains in critical condition.
Restaurateur Anthony Marullo, a friend of the family for more than 15 years, said Marziale had just left his home in Metairie, en route to Florida to spend Thanksgiving with relatives, when the accident happened.
Jefferson Parish deputies said his car veered off the road in the 2800 block of Richland Avenue and hit a utility pole. Joseph Greco, director of the Jefferson Parish East Bank Consolidated Fire Department, said last week that authorities believed some sort of medical problem caused Marziale to lose control of his Kia SUV.
First responders performed CPR to breathe life back into Marziale, then rushed him to University Medical Center. Since then, Marullo said, he has remained in the intensive-care unit.
Marziale gave his family and friends some hope Monday when he opened his eyes several times, but his prognosis is unclear, Marullo said, and his family is looking ahead to a long road to recovery.
“The family’s keeping hope that he’s going to pull through,” Marullo said. “The rehabilitation that he’s going to need is going to be extensive and expensive.”
Anticipating those medical expenses, Marullo and Marziale’s son, Vincent, have organized an online fundraiser on behalf of the sergeant’s family.
“I think that there’s a lot of people out there, policemen or not, that will respect the fact that this man has given 43 years of his life for public service, and now he’s in a time where he needs the public’s help,” Marullo said. “This is a cop’s cop. They don’t make these old-school type of policemen any more.”
Having access to such veteran knowledge is invaluable for both NOPD leaders and ordinary officers, said Heather Kouts, who retired as a captain in June after decades on the force. She said Marziale’s years there, as well as his memberships in the Masons and the Krewe of Endymion, have made him friends everywhere.
Kouts recalled that when she ran the NOPD’s record room after Hurricane Katrina, the office was faced with a dilemma. Because of flood damage at headquarters, the division was forced to send files to City Hall and elsewhere. But space was filling up fast, and arrest reports kept streaming in.
“He used his community contacts and got them to give us some warehouse space,” she recalled. “It was fantastic.”
Kouts said Marziale kept serving even after a stroke left him with limited motion in his left arm. His most recent assignment was to the Administrative Duties Division in a limited-duty capacity, NOPD spokesman Tyler Gamble said.
As for why Marziale stayed with the NOPD after almost every one of his peers had left — and most of the old housing complexes had been torn down — Johnny Miller said the answer was simple:
“He loved what he was doing. Even though times have changed, he’s still dedicated to the public. Mike is a true public servant. They can say what they want about us all, but guys don’t become cops to get rich, you hear?”
Somehow, Kouts added, Marziale’s family also managed to receive an equal dose of his attention. The sergeant is married with two sons and two daughters — one of whom, Gia, has Down syndrome. He is extensively involved in her care.
“He sounds like a saint, but his whole life was dedicated to both his family and the people he was surrounded by,” Kouts said.
Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand remembered that the sergeant enthusiastically volunteered at Metairie Park Country Day School when their children attended it together. Normand said he has talked with Vincent Marziale, who realizes that his father’s recovery will be difficult. The sheriff said Marziale’s colleagues will be there along the way.
“We tend to be a fairly tight-knit fraternity, looking out for one another all the time,” Normand said. “I’m sure that the troops will rally, and everyone will participate in trying to help him out with his challenge.”