SOMERVILLE, NJ - Somerset County Sheriff Darrin Russo stood on the steps of the Historic Somerset County Courthouse Thursday and spoke of a big man, with a big smile and big heart, a public servant who never stopped doing for others.

"He enjoyed helping people and making people smile," Russo said in tribute to 50-year-old Sheriff's Officer Sgt. Ahmed Mackey, who suffered a heart attack soon after arriving for work in Somerville Nov. 22. Fellow officers tried to revive him using CPR and rushed him to nearby Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital/Somerset where he died.

Russo announced that he was promoting Mackey to the rank of sergeant posthumously, and presented Sergeant's badge #2338 to Mackey's mother Angela.

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Hundreds of sheriff's officers and police from throughout New Jersey attended Thursday afternoon's service on the lawn and steps outside the courthouse.

Also paying tribute to Mackey was Somerset County Freeholder Director Shanel Robinson and his brother, Rev.Domingto Mackey.

Mackey, a Piscataway resident, had joined the Somerset County Sheriff's Office in 2001 after serving briefly as a provisional officer with the Essex County Sheriff's Office. He graduated the Somerset County Police Academy in 1994, after which he was a police officer with Norfolk Southern Railway for seven years.

Russo spoke fondly of Mackey.

"The guy didn't stop," Russo said, listing those things that Mackey liked best about his job - working as a school resource officer at Somerset County Vocational and Technical School, reaching out to the students in the hallways and coaching the boys' basketball team.

He was a mentor and educator, certified as a training officer in gang resistance education. 

Earlier this year, after an earnest conversation with the newly-elected Russo, Mackey lobbied to become a member of the department's new public relations unit, which would enable him to become more closely involved with the community, according to Russo.

He also asked to be appointed to Russo's new Hate Crime Bias unit; Russo said he couldn't say "no."

Mackey had also served as the president of the state Juvenile Justice Association, and in 2019, dabbled in politics, running for a seat on the Piscataway Committee.

As the service drew to a close, Russo said the Sheriff's Office would have a big pair of shoes to fill.

"Rest in peace, brother; we will take it from here," Russo said.

As a final tribute, a New Jersey State Police helicopter flew over the crowd outside the courthouse at low altitude.